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The Roundabout, Park Theatre: Inside The Rehearsal Room

I am delighted to see that JB Priestley is back in vogue.  The Roundabout, directed by Hugh Ross opened at Park Theatre last night. The play is a recently rediscovered comedy by JB Priestley – I popped down to Park Theatre, London during the second week of rehearsals and had a lentil salad with Hugh Ross and some of the talented cast including newcomers: Bessie Carter and Charlie Field.

Hugh Ross

Hugh Ross

This is the first major revival of this play in 80 years, so why now? And what have been the biggest challenges getting it up on its feet? Director Hugh explains, “Like anything – finding the right people; every actor brings something different,” he adds: “The one rule for a director is to remember and that every single actor works in a different way. I always think about a line from Sunday in the Park with George ‘Anything you do, let it come from you – then it will be new’.”

Ross has a varied career as an actor and director appearing in a wide variety of British tv, film and theatre. He is surprisingly laid back about it all. It’s all the more remarkable, because he is bringing a play by one of Britain’s leading playwrights to the stage for the first time in nearly a century. I wonder what keeps him awake at night, “A lot of little things, most days it’s thinking that actor is not happy about something, I’m a great believer in the play,” he pauses and grins: “What happened this morning was we ran the second act and I said let’s just put this together and we went through the third act and it was like they were all trying to remember the last time, it was all too big and too rushed, nobody was thinking, nobody was listening. But, we pushed through,” says Ross.

“The play is entertaining without being stupid. It’s positioned in a sense as a drawing room comedy but because of the format of the theatre, I got together with our designer, Polly Sullivan and we decided that it should take place in the conservatory of this family home. I’m a great believer that less is more,” says Ross.

Brian Protheroe will star as Lord Kettlewell and Richenda Carey as Lady Knightsbridge. Both join me for a chat about what audiences can expect. They are visibly excited to be working on the play. “It’s a very different play to make work completely from beginning to end but when you get – what I think is a miraculously well cast play – I think it stands a chance. It’s part farce, part light comedy; but there are extreme moments of comedy,” he adds: “There is a wonderful relationship between the father and the daughter, communism is at the heart of it,” says Protheroe.

Priestley’s plea for a shared humanity is as relevant as ever today, this is prescient theatre. “The Roundabout is a very clever play and I love the bits I’m not in! People can expect something interesting that is very fun too,” says Carey. “The political element of when it was written – 1931- after the Revolution there was a big movement in Europe towards the idealism of Soviet Russia. Rather like now where there are huge tectonic plates shifting,” says Carey.

The Roundabout at Park Theatre.

The Roundabout at Park Theatre. Click on the link to book your tickets now!

The industry can be notoriously difficult for many and I’m curious to hear from a seasoned performers perspective. “My theory is you get a go every two years – you get a really good go – and then it’s someone else’s go, that’s what has seen me through,” she pauses: “Women’s parts? There’s practically none in existence – I would rather scrub lavatories than do a part that I don’t want to play – I really would,” says Carey.

At this point Lisa Bowerman starring as Lady Kettlewell joins us. She is nervous because this is her first theatre role in eight years, usually in radio. “I did the scratch reading of the play last year and at that point it was very difficult to know if there was going to be a future in it. The fact that they have raised the money is terrific,” says Bowerman. She adds: “Some people will have a preconceived idea about JB Priestley, it’s about topics that you wouldn’t expect and it turns the table on you – it has a serious heart, yet remains incredibly entertaining.”

This staging of The Roundabout not only celebrates Priestley’s legacy but salutes a man with an exceptional eye for character. Even if he occasionally lapses into cliche, Priestley understood the nuts and bolts of the theatre better than anyone. Nonetheless, this is a terrific example of a work in progress, hard work, finance and schedules all coming together. The Roundabout is in safe hands.

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