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Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Circle, by Somerset Maugham, Reviewed

A play very much of its time, The Circle, nevertheless touches lightly on themes which continue to have relevance today. Superficially dealing with infidelity and its consequences, there are deeper threads that weave around the war of the sexes, real love, class and sex.

It’s set in the home of a man of independent wealth, a man who is also a Member of Parliament with a ‘position’ in society. His wife is, of course, beautiful and much younger. She is also, predictably, bored by her life of privilege and ease. The plot revolves around the fact that the MP’s father was deserted by his equally beautiful and superficial wife in the name of love, and he is quickly revealed to be in the same boat as his father shortly after the play opens. Just in case you’ve either never heard of the play, or might have the chance to see it, I won’t spoil the ending by revealing the outcome.

As a seed bed for comedy, the situation ought to be bursting with potential life. Unfortunately, the comedy of manners here doesn’t travel through time as well as the famous Pride and Prejudice. I think the reason for that is that it’s very difficult for a modern reader to have any true empathy with any of the characters. The only ‘common’ man in the cast is as difficult to like as are the spoilt brats of the upper classes that take most of the roles.

There’s some amusement to be had by laughing at rather than with the players at times. But I found it sparse for a play that’s described as ‘comedy in three acts’. I was mostly either appalled at the utter hypocrisy and shallowness of the people portrayed or indifferent to their perceived problems or their fate. It wasn’t that their problems were unreal, merely that they, as individuals, failed to convince me that I should give a damn.

I’ve no doubt that gifted actors and a bright director could bring more to this play than I gleaned from the page. But I wouldn’t be tempted to make a trip to the theatre to watch it. Just possibly, were it to appear on the goggle box on a wet afternoon when I had nothing else to do, I might start watching it. For me, it lacked the wit that lifts Wilde’s plays above such considerations and it left a taste of self-satisfaction and smugness in the mouth.

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