The rehabilitation of W Somerset Maugham continues apace. Hot on the heels of the acclaimed West End production of The Constant Wife comes The Circle. But wasn't this just the sort of fusty drama John Osborne and the Angry Young Men delivered us from half a century ago?
Both decorative features are present and correct in The Circle. The curtain rises in 1919 on a Dorset stately home whose sylvan calm is about to be shattered by the arrival of guests. Rising MP Arnold (Dale Rapley) has been reluctantly persuaded by his wife Elizabeth (Hattie Morahan) to invite his mother Lady Catherine Champion-Cheney (Wendy Craig), whom he hasn't seen since she ran off with his father's best friend 30 years ago, and her paramour Lord Porteous (Tony Britton), to lunch. Unfortunately, Arnold's father Clive (Jeremy Child), whose own political career was ended by the subsequent scandal, has unexpectedly turned up and their meeting seems unavoidable.
Clipped voices tinkle among the china and when the dashing Edward (William Buckhurst) enters - clad in tennis whites, tossing a ball - the heart sinks. But what follows is both a comedy of manners, beautifully nuanced by Craig and Britton, and something deeper, darker, "a celebration of the death of youthful attraction," as Richard Eyre puts it.
History is about to repeat itself, to come full 'circle' as per the play's title, which is also an allusion to the privileged classes that Elizabeth exiled herself from. Elizabeth is bored after three years of marriage, in love with Edward and about to run away, inspired, in part, by the example of Lady Catherine before her. Can she be dissuaded?
The cast are uniformly excellent but the evening belongs to Craig who excels both comically - marvellous neo-Lady Bracknell pronouncements - and later in intimate scenes when she reveals the emotional cost of her elopement. Britton, meanwhile, harrumphs and growls to great effect. And plaudits too to Rapley, Tim Shortall (fine sets and costumes) and Mark Rosenblatt, who presents a powerful case for this play's revival.