Review: Circa, Old Red Lion Theatre

Circa follows the life of a nameless character referred to as Mr Man and his desperation to find a monogamous relationship, despite the fact he is gay in the twenty-first century. This play explores the intriguing and completely fresh issue (for me) that a lot of gay men are destined to be lonely, due to the fact that many men want an open relationship and can easily separate ‘feelings from sex’. But while this multifaceted subject is be deeply complex and varied, Circa only skates along the surface and adopts one very strong idea; that it’s a lot harder for a gay man to find a partner who shares his aspirations for long-term monogamy, family and apparent heterosexual traditions. However this play examines the view narrowly, instead of also exploring the reason why this is true and delving into our current societies varied forms of sexuality. This is a shame, as I believe there are many more levels to this elaborate thought that could address solitude, monogamy and open relationships from all sides of the playing board.

The whole evening is made up of slow lilting snippets of Mr Man’s attempts at forming a relationship, mostly portrayed through thin sexual encounters and hook ups which are awkward. From a young teen to his late 60s, you watch as three actors demonstrate this troubled man in many stages of his life. Each scene enacts a snapshot of a new relational encounter that is peacefully sincere. Circa has a gentle pace to it that is very naturalistic and easy to watch. But the downfall to this is that it doesn’t truly pack a punch in the way it could, and instead it mildly probes at the ideas of gay loneliness rather than really making a point. The script by Tom Ratcliffe is satisfyingly circular and has a moving finish. I particularly enjoyed the final scene, where the idea of what our future dating apps will look like is considered – very clever and provocative. But the whole play sets a stigma on homosexual men not wanting to get married and have children, which is a somewhat old fashioned view and feels quite close minded. Yes, statistically homosexual men have more open and one-off relationships, but I question how universal this is for all gay men. I believe that in this modern age there is an increasing choice to choose polyamory, which is becoming popular and therefore shouldn’t be rejected so quickly. Whatever one desires is the right choice for them. Overall it falls short in its ability to really see this fascinating topic from every angle.

In an intimate space like The Red Lion Theatre, it’s crucial to act with utter genuineness, as it’s so close you can catch every movement as if it’s on screen. Daniel Abelson, who plays Mr Man in his 30s, achieves this brilliantly and is charismatically distraught on stage. However Antony Gabriel (Mr Man in his 60s) doesn’t quite embody this and his acting falls jolted and over the top. This is a fine balance to muster and leaves the audience watching ‘actors’ on stage, rather than really being absorbed by the moments of perceived real life.

Circa is a slick production with everything from the lighting, set, sound and costumes being very neat and tidy. Stylistically it all joins together to create considerable authenticity and a low key, but engaging play. In this area it feels faultless and the whole tone of the piece is matched elegantly with effective lighting/ set.

Jenna Fincken’s quick performance as Charlie is charming and funny. Her mischievous energy is delightful and she is thoroughly convincing to watch. However she is only on for one scene and I would have loved to see more of this talented actor.

Thomas Flynn (Young Mr Man) and Joseph Rowe (series of different love interests) are reliable on stage and create beautiful moments together. They both portray their characters naturally and are easy to watch. However they don’t quite grasp the authenticity that is necessary in this close space. Their acting is convincing but not entirely believable in difficult scenes of relationship struggles. Instead it’s jarring and slightly robotic, rather than having the full emotional effect it has the potential for.

Overall Circa has a deeply absorbing topic that I have not seen addressed in theatre before. However nothing jumps out to make it stunning or a must see- it meanders along at a very moderate pace as it makes a point about loneliness for gay men in the twenty-first century. Personally it is a highly engaging 100 minutes and opened my eyes to a topic I had never considered.

Circa is playing at The Old Red Lion Theatre  until 30 March 2019. For more information and tickets, see the Old Red Lion Theatre website