Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Philanthropist | Trafalgar Studios

When they announced the casting for the revival of The Philanthropist at Trafalgar Studios, I squealed with joy and instantly texted my Mom saying "we need to see this!". We love a good TV comedy so the prospect of seeing Simon Bird (The Inbetweeners, Friday Night Dinner), Tom Rosenthal (Friday Night Dinner, Plebs), Charlotte Richie from Fresh Meat and Matt Berry from The IT Crowd - to name a few - all on one stage sounded like too good of an opportunity to miss. We managed to snap up a couple of tickets on the front row for a really reasonable price and it's fair to say that when I took my seat, I was thoroughly looking forward to the performance.

The play is set in the 1970s and centres around a dinner party hosted by Philip for a small group of friends and acquaintances, all of whom are academics. Although the play was a comedy, and did have some hilarious moments, there was also a thread of solemnity and real sincerity running through it which I hadn't expected. As the characters are all experts in English in some form or other (writers, tutors etc) it was quite wordy at times and, the first act in particular, did require a certain level of concentration but overall I thought the play was an interesting comment on character and academia which is made more accessible by the comic component.

I think it would be fair to say that Simon Bird has been typecast in the role of Philip (if you've seen The Inbetweeners you'll know what I mean) but it's because he plays the awkward geeky characters so well. His mannerisms and facial expressions had me in hysterics throughout and while, on the whole, Philip is a comic role, Bird really showed off his range  as an actor in the second act and succeeded in giving the character more emotional depth. I thought that Tom Rosenthal was very believable as Donald. He had natural charm, likeability and great on-stage chemistry with Bird.

I wasn't blown away by Charlotte Ritchie as Celia at first but her character developed as the story did and, in the second act, she really impressed me, hitting the emotional high points very authentically. If I'm completely honest I didn't love the character of Braham, played by Matt Berry, but I think that's kind of the point. He's fairly obnoxious and we don't get any of his backstory so I found I didn't warm to him at all, but I think Berry did a decent job with the text that he was given. In some ways, Lily Cole successfully played the sensual, alluring role of Araminta but I also felt it was lacking some depth. A significant revelation by her character in the second act was kind of brushed over and I would have liked it to have been given more weight.

Overall I really enjoyed the production. The set was wonderful, as were the costumes, and I think it's a shame that the reviews from opening night were so bleak. I found it very interesting, so it is true testament to going and seeing something to make your own mind up, rather than passing a secondhand judgement based on the reviews you've read. The Philanthropist is running at Trafalgar Studios until July and you can find tickets and more details on their website.


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