It is strange to have an American premiere of a 1932 play by the renowned J. B. Priestley, but that’s what is happening with “The Roundabout,” being given a classy staging in the current Brits Off Broadway series. The play was very much part of its time in its outlook on clashes between upper class living and revolutionary ideals, both of which are twitted in Priestley’s witty dialogue and conflicting situations.
The sprightly cast is built around the life of Lord Kettlewell, played with charm and occasional bewilderment by the excellent Brian Protheroe. He is estranged from his wife, Lady Kettlewell, portrayed with sophistication by Lisa Bowerman when she turns up. We learn that Lord Kettlewell has a mistress, Hilda Lancicourt (Carol Starks), and one can surmise that she will turn up too.
That’s one aspect to the Kettlewell dynamics. A different situation arises with the appearance of the Pamela, Lord and Lady Kettlewell’s daughter, whom her father has not seen in years. Under na agreement she has been raised by her mother, but now she announces she wants to live with her father, who is shocked and doesn’t want her to move in.
Pamela, acted with brio by Emily Lang, has been in Russia and has become very much taken by the ideals she sees fulfilled there. (It is typical of how many young people fell for the communist ideology at the time.) Pamela announces proudly and dogmatically that she is a communist.
Comedy is added in the person of her slogan-spouting, bourgeoisie-mocking boyfriend, Steven Blakeley, amusingly strident as Comrade Staggles, a character who despite his rhetoric soon comes to enjoy the comforts of the Kettlewell country home in the author’s wry observations about revolutionary posturing and the willingness to succumb to luxury.
Others in the very polished cast include Hugh Sachs, as Lord Kettlewell’s pal, Churton Saunders, known as Chuffy, assigned the role of making witty remarks. The excellent cast members include Richenda Carey, Charlie Field and Ed Pinker. Polly Sullivan has designed an effective Kettlewell country home in the small stage space, and Hugh Ross directs what is a very stylish production, the kind we have some to expect from visiting Brits.
For the record, the play was first produced by the Liverpool Repertory Theatre on Dec. 14, 1932. It still comes across as entertainingly sophisticated with characters whom audiences may find have their corresponding contemporary types. Times change, and yet they don’t. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewed May 1, 2017.