Off-Broadway Review: “The Roundabout” at 59E59 Theaters

Off-Broadway Review: "The Roundabout" at 59E59 Theaters (Closed Sunday May 28, 2017)
Written by J.B. Priestley
Directed by Hugh Ross
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Traffic flows continuously around the “island” which is the roundabout better known as the Drawing Room of Lord Kettlewell’s (Brian Protheroe) British country estate. Things are not going well for the financier who has summoned his Etonian secretary Farrington Gurney (Charlie Field) to a rare Saturday business meeting to attempt to stop his Lordship’s substantial business losses. Nor are things going well for the rest of the Commonwealth with financial stability waning and international tensions waxing substantially.

Added to Lord Kettlewell’s ennui is the steady flow of unexpected visitors to his estate announced ad seriatim by Parsons (Derek Hutchinson) – from his enraged suitor Hilda Lancicourt (Carol Starks) and estranged wife Rose (Lisa Bowerman) to his equally estranged daughter Pamela (Emily Laing) who arrives from Russia completely unexpectedly with her Comrade Staggles (Steven Blakeley) in tow. Pamela, now a Communist, challenges her father’s abilities at parenting and marriage and Staggles presumes the women of the household yearn to be his lover – including the maid Alice (Annie Jackson) whom he attempts to rescue from her being a “slave hugging her fetters.”

The various guests rotating into and out of the Drawing Room and their encounters with Lord Kettlewell and with one another is the comedic stuff of J. B. Priestly’s “The Roundabout” currently running at 59E59 Theaters as part of the annual Brits Off Broadway Festival. They collide with one another in deliciously hilarious flights of fantasy all the time challenging the decorum of polite society. Churton Saunders – Chuffy – played with a jocular stolidly by Hugh Sachs, is the perfect foil to all the charming madness swirling around him.

Under Hugh Ross’s well paced direction, the cast is uniformly engaging, each with a clear understanding of his or her character and the diverse conflicts that drive the plot with all its twists and turns. It is the unpredictability of these parallel story lines that makes “The Roundabout” consummately entertaining. Why has Pamela decided to be a Communist? Why has she arranged to have her mother visit? Who is Lady Knightsbridge (Richenda Carey) and why is she so involved in everyone’s business?

Priestly chooses not to explore the issues he introduces with any depth. His Lord Kettlewell does challenge Comrade Staggles about the benefits of communism affirming, “If we’d communism, there’d still be room at the top.” Still, Mr. Priestly’s 1931 “very light comedy” is a delightful romp around the roundabout well worth the trip.