The Roundabout, Park Theatre, review: ‘Bessie Carter is the highlight of wonderfully enjoyable play’

Steven Blakeley in The Roundabout at the Park Theatre. Picture: Robert Workman

Steven Blakeley in The Roundabout at the Park Theatre. Picture: Robert Workman - Credit: Robert Workman

Priestly’s play set in a Wodehouse-esque down at heel country house wraps the audience in a blanket of familiar characters and startlingly funny lines.

There was a real buzz at the Park before the start of The Roundabout. You are always guaranteed a rattling good night’s theatre with a Priestley and the anticipation of its revival (and its first production in London) was palpable dharling, palpable.

Priestley described his 1931 work as “a very light comedy ... a little less intellectually negligible than most very light comedies”. He should know. And he was right.

The day’s action is set in a rather down at heel country house, owned by the nice-old-cove-but-not-very-good-businessman-or-husband Lord Kettlewell. All sorts of Thirties types appear and make us laugh and chortle – Chuffy (clubbable, effete and knowing), Parsons the butler, Alice the downtrodden maid (a slave hugging her fetters, according to Staggles), Greenside the artist. Into this happy band burst Comrades Pamela and Staggles and the fun rally begins.

Pamela, dressed as a shabby rambler with beret, long-shorts and big boots, is Kettlewell’s estranged daughter. She was Up at Oxford but has just returned with Staggles (beautifully observed by the priapic Steven Blakeley) from three months in the USSR.


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Class comedy, comedy of manners and general confusion all ensue in roughly equal measure.

Priestly has stolen (today we call it sampling) from other writers – Shaw’s Major Barbara is the well for the hectoring, class challenging Pamela; Richenda Carey’s wonderful dowager Lady Knightsbridge could easily slip, under full sail, into almost any of Wilde’s works and Wodehouse has lent the whole country house thing with amiable chumps fisticuffing in the garden and below stairs to-dos.

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The Roundabout doesn’t have the sustained drama and dark undercurrents of An Inspector Calls; instead it wraps the audience in a blanket of familiar characters and startlingly funny lines.

The cast was magnificent (and will be even more so when they remember each others’ names) but the abiding memory will be the performance of Bessie Carter (unbelievably, making her professional debut) as Pamela. Her passive-aggressive management of her father’s mistress Hilda Lancicourt (beautifully observed by Carol Starks) was terrifying.

Tall, elegant, playful, conniving... all delivered with aplomb and twinkle that enraptured the late summer audience.

Wonderfully enjoyable theatre.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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