JB Priestley’s Roundabout had its premiere in Liverpool 1932 and there was a production by Cambridge undergraduates in 1935; and that was it, until Hugh Ross’s present enjoyable revival at Park Theatre, Finsbury. The comedy, very light and typical of its era, is given a quasi-intellectual edge with its facile satire at the expense of the bourgeoisie and the communists, who are in a state of economic and social confusion.
A bankrupt aristocrat is confronted by his estranged daughter (Bessie Carter) who returns from Russia as a keen communist with a male comrade (Steven Blakeley) in tow. She makes her entrance in shorts, dirty sweater and a large black beret, looking like a male mechanic in a third-rate garage; and very off-putting she is, too. Her dingy, sullen, scruffy, ugly commie boyfriend is even more off-putting.
The daughter was written for Peggy Ashcroft, with whom Priestley was having an affair, and the role could be read as a gentle joke at her politics. Ashcroft never played her. Bessie Carter (the daughter of Imelda Staunton and Jim Carter) has just graduated from drama school and is making her stage debut. Her second act entrance is a wonderful transformation: she is irresistibly feminine. Meanwhile, Hugh Sachs, as the aristocrat’s best friend, an Edwardian parasite and idler (his own words), has all the witty Wildean lines.
It would be a good idea to do a bit of homework on the Democratic Republic of Congo before you arrive at the Almeida Theatre; or, at the very least, arrive early and read the programme essay and historical chronology before you see They Drink It in the Congo. Adam Brace’s new, sprawling, anarchic satire, directed by Michael Longhurst, is complex and is not the easiest play to follow. A white middle-class, well-meaning, liberal Brit (Fiona Button) wants (as an act of personal atonement) to organise an arts festival to advertise the positive side of the Congo; but she finds that even forming a committee is fraught with physical danger. She wants to get the Congolese on side but there are many factions trying to stop her as they know the festival will be interpreted as support for the president.
The Congolese speak in English at all times, but whenever they are meant to be speaking in their own language, there are instant surtitles in their mother tongues – a neat solution. Sule Rimi, in a dazzling pink suit, is a striking, strutting figure and his exuberant solo dance gives the second act a kick-start.
Her Name Was Carmen, a two-act touring ballet, is set in a refugee camp and was presented at London Coliseum by Russian dancer Irina Kolesnikova in support of Oxfam and their Stand As One campaign, which calls on world leaders to keep refugees safe, supported and with their families. The performance has major weaknesses: poor storyline, poor characterisation and poor choreography. Bizet’s music provides the drama, but there is no drama on stage. The production, deeply unmoving, feels as if it still being workshopped. Another problem is that nobody looks remotely like a refugee either in dress or movement. There is no urgency, no plight and no heartrending refugee tragedy.
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