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The Circle

February 13th - February 17th


Jane Asher, Clive Francis and Nicholas le Prevost in

The Circle

By W Somerset Maugham

Will history come full circle? Or can one generation learn from their parents’ mistakes?

Jane Asher (Alfie, Deep End) plays Lady Kitty, a society beauty who notoriously abandoned her stuffy husband Clive (Clive Francis, The Crown), and eloped with the handsome Lord Porteous (Nicholas Le Prevost, Shakespeare in love, Testament of Youth).

Thirty years later, love’s young dream has descended into non-stop squabbling … Meanwhile Clive and Lady Kitty’s son Arnold (Pete Ashmore, The Lovely Bones) faces the same marital fate, as his wife Elizabeth (Olivia Vinall) threatens to elope with the dashing Teddie Luton (Chirag Benedict Lobo).

Somerset Maugham’s sparky comedy of manners was first staged in 1921 and has remained a firm favourite with audiences ever since.



Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (including interval)

Photo credit: Ellie Kurttz and Nobby Clark


February 13th
February 17th
Event Categories:


Festival Theatre
Grange Road
Malvern, WR14 3HB


Wednesday & Thursday Matinees: £41.44, £39.20, £36.96, £33.60, £30.24
Tuesday - Thursday Evenings & Saturday Matinee: £43.68, £41.44, £39.20, £35.84, £32.48
Friday & Saturday Evening: £45.92, £43.68, £41.44, £38.08, £34.72
£2 Concessions Over 60s/Unwaged/Under 26s
Members discounts apply
Prices include 12% booking fee
Show Times:
Tuesday 13th - Saturday 17th February
Evenings at 7.30pm
Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm

Event Reviews

  • The View from The Stalls

    A century old and still a classy play.

    From the pen of William Somerset Maugham comes The Circle, a play which was both written in 1921 and, in this production from Orange Tree Theatre, is set in the same year. It therefore remains, very deliberately, a period piece, with characters and a set to match and mentions of things such as the "Federated Malay States". Elegantly-dressed men and woman on a stage which is, to be honest, made up of plenty of chairs and a few tables plus a couple of doors to enter and exit from.

    So far, so simple, so classical. Add the talented cast and you have a play which, whilst a century old, still amuses and comes up with some surprises centred around attitudes of the time. Heading the cast is Jane Asher, resplendent in her gowns and bright copper red hair as Lady Catherine "Kitty" Champion-Cheney with Clive Francis as her estranged husband, Clive. The result of this marriage was Arnold, an MP, played by Pete Ashmore but sadly he drew the short straw when it came to relationships with his parents who he has not seen for decades whilst appearing to have followed them in the wedding stakes by marrying Elizabeth (Olivia Vinall) who now wants out.

    She has fallen for the charms of Teddie Luton (Daniel Burke) in much the same way that Kitty fell for Lord Hughie Porteous (superbly played by Nicholas Le Prevost making the most of a character who has the best and funniest lines in the show, especially regarding dentures(!) and has some tender moments with Kitty). But whereas Kitty and Clive are "on a break" so to speak, divorce being out of the question, especially since her conversion to Catholicism, divorce is exactly what Elizabeth wants from Arnold. Arnold, on the other hand, seeing his status as an MP being irreparably damaged by such an action, is rather more reticent…

    The cast is completed by a few appearances from Robert Maskell as a butler who, in saying little, speaks volumes.

    Marriage must have been a curious beast to Somerset Maugham - despite marrying twice and fathering a daughter, he was gay and led a double life with a younger man Gerald Haxton which began before and ended after his period of marriage, a risky approach at the time. Creating a play of which the main thrust was dealing with two heterosexual couples who would obviously benefit from divorce themselves was probably a therapeutic experience for the writer as well as allowing him to continue a "respectable" life as a married man himself.

  • Fairy Powered Productions - Courie Amado Juneau

    The Circle by Somerset Maugham tells the story of a family reunion that takes an unexpected turn when the misfortunes of the father are revisited upon the son.

    The story opens on a sumptuous set evoking the spleandour of a country pile as Arnold is nervously anticipating the arrival of his estranged mother, who he hasn’t seen for 30 years. His wife, Elizabeth, extended the invitation but hadn’t counted on the unexpected arrival of Arnold’s father – nor his mischievous scheming.

    Olivia Vinall played Elizabeth with an understated exuberance that befits the era and which was impressively dramatic. I find it hard to warm to anyone contemplating splitting up a marriage but Olivia gave the part such a laudable integrity and compelling gentleness that I found myself rooting for her and hoping she would do the right thing. I just wasn’t sure what the right thing was…

    …and therein lies the rub, since this is a very ambiguous play. It doesn’t moralise, nor offer any definitive answers. Instead it explores the full spectrum of familial quandaries from a multitude of angles and leaves one both questioning societal morality alongside ones own. A very illuminating exercise.

    The two men in Elizabeth’s life – husband Arnold (Pete Ashmore) and his friend Teddie (Daniel Burke) who she realizes she has fallen in love with, are polar opposites but both actors brought these men to life with passionate portrayals.

    From her opening scene’s rather haughty austerity to the more contemplative moments with the two central loves of her life to imparting her hard earned wisdom during the chat with Elizabeth, Jane Asher (as Kitty, Arnold’s mother) showed why has has been such a legend of the stage and screen for so long, giving us a nuanced character study that was never anything less than totally compelling. The scene where she reacts to her old photo and ensuing discussion with her partner was particularly effective and touching.

    Clive, Kitty’s ex-husband, was played by Clive Francis with a beautifully light comic touch and a relish that was a joy to behold. I loved his almost under the radar opportunistic meddling. Such delicious peskiness. His former friend (and Kitty’s partner for the last 30 years) Hughie (Nicholas Le Prevost) was equally marvellous although in a totally different way. I found myself totally in sympathy with him. His waffling vocal dismissal was hilarious and a character trait I shall attempt to develop myself.

    Like an Agatha Christie where the weapons are words instead of daggers, I was riveted from start to finish, being totally drawn into this domesticated universe of polite warfare. Not so much a whodunnit as a howcouldtheyhavedunnit (or even a howcouldtheyavoiddoingit): it holds an entertaining mirror up to old fashioned attitudes, discussing social mores as history repeats itself a generation apart. A shockingly everyday ending was the final icing on the cake with an unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on your point of view) inevitability which displayed the author’s genius.

    A study of the complexities of life, love, honour and duty – if you love Oscar Wilde you will love this play – especially given the stellar cast at the top of their game. I certainly loved and can wholeheartedly recommend it.

  • Weekend Notes - Alison Brinkworth

    This Somerset Maugham social satire gets a dusting-off for a new tour with a well-known, experienced cast. There's not just Jane Asher but also Clive Francis and Nicholas le Prevost heading up the production.

    The Circle is at Malvern Theatres from February 13 to Saturday, February 17 as part of a UK tour. It's a Theatre Royal Bath Production with an air of polish that goes beyond the cast to the staging and costumes too.

    The set has luxurious furniture and French doors recreating a grand country house. Even more gloriously decadent are the vintage women's evening dresses. Jane Asher's orange outfit, shown below, even raised gasps of appreciation on her entrance after the interval.

    This Somerset Maugham comedy of manners dates back to 1921 and explores the line between following your heart and family responsibility. It's not as serious as that sounds as it's light and frivolous with bubbling humour at every turn. Even if some of the outdated values about divorced women may no longer be relevant, the story still feels relatable.

    Asher plays ageing Lady Kitty, who is back to see her son Arnold 30 years after notoriously abandoning him as a child along with her stuffy husband Clive to run off with a Lord. In a strange coincidence, Arnold's bored wife Elizabeth has itchy feet the way his mother did, so will Lady Kitty's experiences deter or encourage her to go ahead with an affair?

    The tempo gradually builds with the comedy ramping up fully when the now elderly love triangle comes face to face.

    Lady Kitty's ex-husband Clive is played marvellously by Clive Francis. He makes him mischievous and his needling of his ex-wife's lover Lord Porteous is a treat. Francis is obviously a safe pair of hands with decades of experience including Bridgerton and The Crown.

    Well-known Nicholas Le Prevost of TV classics like The Jewel In The Crown and Wild At Heart is the somewhat dishevelled Lord and love rival who shows wonderful comic timing. The younger generation of actors are all in fine form too.

    It's a play ultimately about love and how far you will go for it. If anything it proves a great script is timeless. Added to that it's a high-class, slick production that bubbles along with ease.

  • Malvern Observer - Euan Rose

    SOMERSET Maugham is not a writer I am particularly familiar with, so I was fascinated to see what relevance a 100-year plus play could possibly have today, other than as a period piece showcase.
    Director Tom Littler obviously thought differently as he extracts every ounce of realism from Maugham’s clever text which is delivered by a stellar cast who work in harmony with Littler’s mission. He is true to the writer and to the period – all the better it is for it too.
    In a world where four-letter worded scripts are the norm, it brought a smile when one of the players is taken to task in the first few lines for using the ‘damn’ word. ‘With ‘beastly’ ‘jolly’ and the like being the vernacular, it actually became instantly charming.

    The comedic story deals with upper class MPs’ young wives leaving them for pastures new with the underlying message that according to society back then there were only scarlet women, never men. Not much has changed there then!

    Designer Louie Whitemore gives us some stunning costumes and furniture, but the set seemed more functional than factual with freestanding flats stretching the imagination that this was some huge Dorset country mansion.

    The play opens with Arnold Champion-Cheney, (perfectly played by Pete Ashmore), nervously awaiting meeting his mother for the first time in 30 years. That is along with the lover who took her away from his dad when he was just five. Little does he suspect this is the least of his worries – history is about to repeat itself as his not-long- married and very young bride is planning to do the same to him.

    That in a nutshell is the plot which Littler allows to brew and bubble, letting us do the thinking – nothing explodes – just fizzes and froths – any prejudices we may start off with about colonialism and upstairs downstairs are knocked back down like pop-up moles at a sideshow and it is like eating a nice box of chocolates.

    Olivia Vinall is as beautiful as she is believable as Arnold’s frustrated wife Elizabeth and you can well see why she has fallen for the seductive gait of house guest Teddie Luton (just the right amount of suavity here from Daniel Burke).

    Jane Asher and Nicholas Le Prevost take us on a delicious journey as Lady Kitty and Lord Hughie. As history repeats itself with Elizabeth and Teddie, so the years seem to drain away and the spring is put back into their rule-breaking relationship.

    Man of the match for me though, has to be Clive Francis who is a veritable tour-de-force as Clive Champion-Cheney, Arnold’s father. He peels back the layers of his character from the hard-done-to abandoned daddy, to revealing a roguish player who changes his women when they reach the ripe old age of 25. He pays them off with a diamond ring and lets them think it’s them that’s doing the leaving. Clive is Maugham’s ‘Alfie’ – and we see what he’s all about!

    It has to be said that if ever there was theatre and audience that is right for Maugham’s ‘Circle’, it has to be Malvern.

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