Circa by Tom Ratcliffe, The Old Red Lion, London, 4****, Veronica Stein.


Circa by Tom Ratcliffe


The Old Red Lion (short walk from Angel station) until 30th March.

Tickets are available priced from £12

2 hours including interval.


Veronica Stein, 16th March, 2019.

It is no secret that the mechanisms of courtship have rapidly changed are morphing all the time, with Coffees meeting Bagels and the traditional door to long term partnership falling off its Hinge. For the gay community in particular, the dramatic shift from seeking partnership in the shadows to the grind on Grindr may be incurring a pivot not only for dating expectations, but also for those of life partnership.

Circa by Tom Ratcliffe follows one gay man’s life from his first sexual encounter as a teen through his many others. The Man, as he is symbolically labelled, has many partners with vastly different ideals for relationships- specifically gay ones- and the Man must contend with an altogether new closet created by Grindr and the like: that of seeking a traditional relationship with traditional values, even if the tide of social change in both human behaviour and social justice are diverging from his place in the  identity within against him.

Circa‘s strongest asset is the powerhouse cast, who make the Old Red Lion even more intimate. The challenge of telling the story of one person’s life in brief with three actors at the helm is taken on deftly by Thomas Flynn, Daniel Abelson, and Antony Gabriel in that order. Indeed, the division of the roles allows for really interesting perspectives: when Flynn plays the Man during his initial sexual encounter with a much older and smarmier one (Gabriel), it’s a pretty fabulous contrast when we reach a later scene where the actors have switched archetypes and it is the protagonist who seeks a younger sexual partner. The Rent Boy, First Fling, and Drunken Encounter alter egos of the three actors round out the Man’s life with wildly different performances than their turns as the lead. Joseph Rowe and Jenna Fincke too prove excellent in their roles. Rowe shines in both the sparkle of first love and the comfort of long term partnership all within a couple of scenes. The passage of time throughout is deftly directed and maintained by the cast, which isn’t necessarily simple with a play that moves so quickly.

Indeed, Circa feels incredibly organised, it is directed by Andrew Twyman with an even hand that trusts the actors to carry the writing; the flow of the scenes is clear and the surprises are wonderful because they aren’t thrust upon us flashily. The set (Luke W Robson) is a sterile grey that doubles as several hotel rooms and private residences during the story, and though it is cleverly crafted with adaptable set pieces and very elegantly suggests the universality of this experience, it would have been lovely for it to feel a bit more lived in; we are seeing a person’s life, after all.

Ratcliffe’s writing embraces familiar conventions, provides relatable characters and dialogue, and challenges the current state of affairs. Despite the condensation of a life in short form, nuance runs throughout…Circa‘s title seems to have multiple meanings- aside from the circular nature of the proceedings, with bookend scenes that mirror each other, the Man’s life appears to be an exploration of loneliness where he is near (or circa) the others he sleeps with, wants to sleep with, wants to be with permanently but isn’t sexually attracted to, etc. It asks profound questions about the state of affairs for monogamy and casual sex amongst the gay community and the population at large: is being near to societal definitions for relationships enough for us, and is being near but not quite fulfilling our life expectations enough for us? In an age of an upheaval of the rule book, is wanting to stick close to its clauses impossible for those who are part of communities doing the upheaving?


The Young Man/The Rent Boy: Thomas Flynn
The Man/The First Fling: Daniel Abelson
The Older Man/The Drunken Encounter: Antony Gabriel
The First Love/The Partner: Joseph Rowe
The Solution/The Waiter: Jenna Fincken

Director: Andrew Twyman
Designer: Luke W Robson

Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

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