Anyone who’s ever been to a bad dinner party should watch The Circuit

Bloodshed, political debate, safe words – it’s the dinner party from hell

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We’ve all been there. Sat opposite the guest with the morally questionable job. Dragged on the obligatory tour of the new house. Overhydrated with aperitifs, wine, dessert wine, and finally gin.

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Dinner parties are the best of times and the worst of times. And this is shrewdly observed in Sharon Horgan’s new Channel 4 comedy, The Circuit.

It depicts a couple, Nat (Eva Birthistle) and Gabe (Adeel Akhtar) who have moved to a new area and are invited to a dinner party which they reluctantly attend. Their hosts are the highly-strung, Hungarian Helene (Victoria Hamilton) and her suitably depressed husband Sasha (Tobias Menzies). They are having severe marriage issues and, as Helene would say, by the end of the night the guests can “smell their dirty sheets”. In fact, it all gets so agonising that Nat and Gabe are forced to plot an escape route.

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Helene locks Nat into conversation

Sharon Horgan, who wrote the filthily funny sitcom Catastrophe, is well-versed in writing excruciating table scenes. If you saw the Catastrophe episode where Rob shouts at a homeopath: “If I thought for a second that I could just rub a blueberry on her vagina and fix her, I would, but I can’t because it’s BULLSHIT.” Then you’ll know what I mean. If not, watch it.

The Circuit, too, is very entertaining, but at times it teeters slightly on the side of being too uncomfortable.

Helene, the hostess, is grating and shrill. Obviously this is entirely the point, but her lines are largely overwritten, and by constantly revisiting her jokes, Horgan is in danger of killing them. 

Tobias Menzies in the role of her husband Sasha is very, very good at being cross. He takes the guests on a tour of the house – after being cajoled into it by his wife, of course. With a face like a slapped bottom he mutters: “This is the utility room. This is where the washer dryer goes… and the combi boiler.” He gestures wearily: “That’s the washer dryer. That’s the combi boiler.”

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The tour of the utility room

Another character that shines through is Gabe, adorable in his beige cable knit jumper, peeking out in bewilderment from behind his glasses and delivering his lines to perfect comedic effect.

He spends most of the evening fretting about what kind of person he would be if he lived under the Nazi occupation. “God forbid something happens, and a fascist state is installed. And they come for our Turkish neighbours. What would I do? Am I the kind of man who would hide them in our secret cupboard or do I shout out the window: ‘There’s two more upstairs, you missed them! Get them!’?”

This is vintage dinner party conversation.

His wife Nat bears a lot of similarities to Sharon Horgan’s character in Catastrophe: not only for her soft Irish accent, but also her sarcasm and recklessness.

The other characters are slow burners to begin with, but they have great potential. Marty (Nicola Walker) uses the C word very freely and when it is completely uncalled for, which is always very funny. And her girlfriend Angie (Desiree Akhavan) is the one with the controversial job. When Nat asks her what she does, she replies cheerfully: “I make bullets.”

Classic. 

And all of this is set against the backdrop of ambient elevator music – after all, what else would you expect at a middle class dinner party from hell?

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The Circuit begins on Channel 4 tonight at 10pm