The older we get, the rate at which life starts to pass us by seems to accelerate, a fact particularly pertinent in Tom Ratcliffe’s Circa, which comes to the Old Red Lion, three years after it premiered in Amsterdam. If this were a National Theatre production it would probably be stretched out to be a four hour ‘epic’, but with Ratcliffe’s smart writing we span thirty years in the romantic life of a gay man in just 100 minutes, which brings added poignancy to those big life moments.
We never learn the name of our central character, and that’s important, because ‘The Man’ could be any one of us. Trying to make his way through life, shaping it in to something that fits the ‘normal’ way of living, with the preconceived ideas which society has prescribed. In this sense, the fact that our protagonist is gay is immaterial, the themes are recognisable to everyone.
We see The Man in three eras of his life, from his teenage foray in to one night stands, to his early thirties when he is attempting to settle down, and finally in to his fifties where life has essentially come full circle. Three different actors portray these life stages, Thomas Flynn, Daniel Abelson and Antony Gabriel. When they are not portraying ‘The Man’ they represent friends and lovers who come and go over the course of a lifetime. Longer term partners are played by Joseph Rowe and Jenna Fincken, allowing some form of consistency to develop within the narrative.
Of course, to cover decades in such a short running time means that we only dip in and out of the man’s life, catching mere glimpses of his existence. It works well in that we feel more connected to the character, like old school friends who get to catch up only occasionally, for this reason it is what goes unsaid or unseen in Circa that really matters, driving the story forward.
Andy Twyman directs a very beautiful piece of theatre, the cool grey-granite back drop brought to life with vivid lighting in design from Luke W Robson, with a calming, almost introspective soundscape from Ted White. The staging sees the characters move with choreographed purpose, and the transitions between both minor and major life changes work particularly well.
The cast of five work hard to deliver points of differentiation between their characters. Daniel Abelson’s period as The Man has the greatest degree of poignancy, and Abelson draws this out with remarkable tenderness. Thomas Flynn’s performance is a masterpiece, as the younger man his facial expressions and body movements are captivating, while in the second half his portrayal of a rent boy in drag is emotionally charged.
While there are moments of comedy in Circa, everything about it exposes the deeply held views and preconceptions of society. At its heart, this is a play about loneliness and how striving to fit in ultimately leads to greater isolation, demonstrating what a cruel mistress the game of life really is. Tom Ratcliffe’s outstanding play deals only in the realism of a life lived, without resorting to outlandish or over conceived plot points, and it is the authenticity of this play which will make it resonate so deeply with its audience.