Review: The Circle Returns To Richmond Theatre

Review: The Circle Returns To Richmond Theatre

Jane Asher and cast shine in The Circle at Richmond Theatre.

By Ellie Holmes

Image (c) Ellie Kurttz

Somerset Maugham’s The Circle was first staged in 1920. It has remained a favourite with audiences and the latest production of it in Richmond proves that the play still has some relevance today, whilst very much feeling like we are watching a play from a bygone era.

The story portrays Lady Kitty (Jane Asher) who runs away with her lover who is 30 years younger than her, leaving her husband and son behind.

She moves to Florence with her lover (who happens to be her husband’s friend). The narrative starts as Lady Kitty is invited by her son’s wife to visit her ex-husband and son who is now a married middle-aged man.

The real crux of the performance is seeing Lady Kitty and her daughter-in-law (Elizabeth)’s relationship develop. There are many parallels between them: they are mirrored with their similar hair styles, clothing colours and of course predicament!

Somerset Maugham really keeps you guessing on whether Elizabeth will leave her husband Anthony to run off with Teddy, who she has fallen in love with, and follow in the footsteps of Lady Kitty.

Will history repeat itself?  In credit to the playwright and cast, we were both trying to predict the outcome throughout the play and kept changing our minds right to the end.

Maugham was himself unhappily married, but for different reasons, and there are nuances of his commentary on married life that weave throughout the play.

He was married to a woman, but in love with a man at a time when homosexuality was illegal and his long-term lover had to live abroad and Maugham was very uncomfortable about the situation.

The Circle has many aspects where the debate of leaving the safety, comfort and structure of an unhappy marriage in the 1920s, for freedom and love are extrapolated.

There is also the theme of public interest in the private lives of public figures and their offspring.

The production looks at what personal scandals looked like in this period and the implications that divorce had in terms of reputation, for both women and men.

There seems to be no right answer and all characters oscillate between the pros and cons of their actions and the implications of their decisions are explored with no judgement or conclusion.


Of course there is a brilliant comic element which seamlessly runs in parallel to these ‘big’ life questions on life choices, the role of women (fairly dated views on this, but it is 1920) , whether love can last, and whether to settle or chase your dreams.

Jane Asher is indefatigable, and has incredible stage presence, energy and comic timing.

Photography by Nobby Clark

However, she is not by any means carrying The Circle alone, and there are exceptional performances by Clive Francis and Nicholas Le Prevost, who are engaging and amusing to watch.

Whilst the staging and set design does not set the world on fire, strong performances and a rotation whereby normally two characters take centre stage each scene, means all members of the cast get their chance to lead.

The Circle is at Richmond Theatre from Tuesday 20th – Saturday 24th February.