Review | Circa at Old Red Lion Theatre

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Circa, Old Red Lion Theatre (Joseph Rowe and Daniel Abelson) - courtesy of Lidia Crisafulli

Circa, written by Tom Ratcliffe and directed by Andy Twyman is meant to be a story about modern gay life. I say meant to, it is about modern gay life, however, it’s description is that it follows one man’s life, unless I’d read that, I wouldn’t actually believe that. I still maintain it’s wrong, the play follows three peoples stories, they are connected, but they are different and each have different experiences and feelings towards their sexuality.

The first cluster of stories are about a young naive man meeting a much older man, very abusive, it gets quite dark, we seem him with someone closer to his own age, ready to leave for studying in London and then a bit about his time in London, this is most definitely the same person, played brilliantly by Thomas Flynn, in the first explorations of his sexuality and his life. They provoke quite a mixture of emotions, from fear and sympathy to excitement. One problem, and I don’t know if it’s in the script this way, or if it’s a directorial decision, but in this first cache of stories, at the end of each vignette in this cache, Flynn goes to the front of the stage, stares in to the distance, slowly takes his top off, shows off his body and then puts another top on. The first couple of times, I can understand, but it does end up very repetitive, gratuitous and a little bit boring, especially as one time he does it and as soon as he’s dressed he goes off stage!

After this first cache, the next batch follows a different man and then a different man, connected to him for the next few. The most moving cache is probably the last batch, with Daniel Abelson in the lead. These are heartbreakingly tragic, about sexuality norms and whether being gay means being ‘allowed’ to want some of the same things that straight people do, a family for instance. It’s a wonderful set of scenes and whilst there most definitely is levity, it’s very sad too, as it should be.

It’s a good play, fragmentary to be sure, but with snippets of genius and genuine discovery. I do believe that it would have stronger if Ratcliffe had instead focused his efforts on one section of this story and expanded upon it, really make an emotional connection between the character and the audience, as by the time we’re starting a connection with one set of characters, the story changes. That being said, I would come back and watch it again; the characters are very well-formed and completely different, and each cache from the introduction to gay life and love, to first proper relationship and wondering if a gay couple can really have it all it exposes all of the worries and aspects of modern gay life with an exceedingly talented set of actors. I am very much looking forward to seeing what Ratcliffe and his fantastic team of actors do next.

Circa is on at the Old Red Lion Theatre, London EC1V 4NJ until Saturday 30th March. For more information and for tickets, visit their website.

Words by Stuart Martin.


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