The Miser, and now another play with a Molière connection, Christopher Hampton's The Philanthropist, had me rushing for the exit as well. Cast entirely through watching Channel 4 catch-up, plus that episode of Doctor Who where Lily Cole played a fish, Simon Callow's production offers little justification for why it should be revived. In roles they're patently too young for, Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal play stuffy university English lecturers who witness a (probably accidental) suicide in the opening scene. Perhaps out of empathy, the play also proceeds to die a death as Bird's Philip and his fiancée Celia (Charlotte Ritchie) host an evening of drinks for a few colleagues and a successful author.
There's undeniably bad timing in putting on a play that features a terrorist attack
on Westminster as a casual comic subplot, just as one happens for real, but to be
honest I'm not sure even without the specific parallels it could have come across in
good taste, certainly not in the dismissive, ham-fisted way it's written here.
Maybe if any of the comedy worked, but Callow's production keeps everyone so low-key
they've barely turned up. Matt Berry isn't exactly someone you go to for range, and
as pompous author Braham he should have been in full Steven Toast mode, but even
he's comparatively toned down. I have to blame both the material - there's that
always-awful moment, where the characters are laughing their heads off at their own
witticisms while the audience looks on in eerie silence - and Callow's direction, as
this is a cast that looked good on paper - they're the reason I booked - but
uniformly fail to deliver. Perhaps the second act would have given me a clue as to
what exactly the point was, but when, even in a comparatively short first act,
you're alternating between looking at your watch and the exit, that's a pretty solid
hint to cut your losses, so that's what I did.
The Philanthropist by Christopher Hampton is booking until the 22nd of July at
Trafalgar Studio 1.
Running time: Advertised as 2 hours 5 minutes.
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan.