The Philanthropist, Trafalgar Studios, review: ‘Tonal inconsistency that dampens the impact’

The Philanthropist at Trafalgar Studios directed by Simon Callow. Picture: Tristram Kenton

The Philanthropist at Trafalgar Studios directed by Simon Callow. Picture: Tristram Kenton - Credit: �Tristram Kenton

There are many pitfalls to dusting down old material and presenting it anew.

Changing attitudes and the milieu of the times certainly play their part. Christopher Hampton’s England-set 1969 response to Moliere’s The Misanthrope falls unintentionally foul of recent events by referencing a terrorist attack at the heart of parliament.

Aside from such an unnerving case of life imitating art, there is a tonal inconsistency to Simon Callow’s production that dampens its impact. Focusing on 24 hours in the lives of a group of academics and students, Philip (Simon Bird) is a socially awkward, opinion-bereft professor of philology. He’s an odd match with self assured fiancée Celia (Charlotte Ritchie). His best friend is the more socially astute Donald (Tom Rosenthal), and with the age-old theatrical device of a dinner party, bourgeois writer Braham (Matt Berry) and seductive Araminta (Lily Cole) also converge.

Deft wordplay and broad characterisation wrestle for prominence, leaving the pervading impression that the Philanthropist is neither one thing nor the other.

Braham’s passionate observations, no matter how caustic, ache with pseudo-intellectual pretension as he nihilistically discusses class, status and art.


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This is an aberration from the rest, which plays out like Scenes of a Marriage-lite as Philip and Celia must confront the chasm that exists between them.

That’s not to say the production is devoid of potency.

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Despite frustrations with Philip’s persistent lack of perception of things as they are - in spite of his academic intelligence, he has an amiable charm. The performances elicit frequent chuckles and the attention never wanders. For all of the misses there’s an equal number of hits.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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