Old Red Lion Theatre, London – until 30 March 2019
Raw, insightful and brutally honest, Tom Ratcliffe’s play returns to London following its premiere at The Vaults Festival in 2016.
As a comprehensive study of gay relationships, Circa offers plenty of insight into the variety of relationships and encounters that one man’s love life encounters over the years. It is also honest and has plenty of moments which are beautifully portrayed in Andrew Twyman’s production – but it also feels slightly stilted and clinical in places.
Taking audiences on the journey from a young man’s nervous first encounter, through first love until he becomes an older man when he discovers that technology has transformed the way in which he can find companionship, Circa poignantly shows just how the search for love and relationships can ultimately be a lonely journey.
Twyman’s pacy but tenderly directed production, captures all of the key moments of the play beautifully – particularly when enhancing just how lonely the central character is, such as when he reconnects with his first love and discusses the relationship he is in. It is the moments that highlights the character’s isolation that really resonate with the audience and form the emotional core of the production.
However, it has to be said that there are times in the play that feel slightly clinical – with the scene changes in particular feeling awkward and abrupt – disrupting from the flow of the play. I also question whether there was a need for an interval which also takes away some of the intimacy that builds beautifully in the first act. It feels at times that by focusing on too many different types of relationships, the play can come across as slightly stilted and rough around the edges with Ratcliffe trying to cram too much in.
But the cast all put in solid performances, playing a multitude of characters with great depth and understanding that adds to the poignancy of many of the scenes. Each character is naturally defined – in particular Antony Gabriel as The Drunken Encounter is suitably convincing as the nasty individual who treats the central character with disdain, making for uncomfortable but raw viewing. Meanwhile, the chemistry between Thomas Flynn as the central character and the first love and partner played by Joseph Rowe are some of the most touching and sincere moments in the show – all thoroughly engaging to watch.
Overall, Twyman’s production beautifully presents the powerful nature of Tom Ratcliffe’s play. But it also exposes the fact it still feels slightly rough around the edges in terms of the way in which it transitions its focus from one relationship to the next and the need for slightly more focus on some encounters.