The Philanthropist, Trafalgar Studios | Review

The Philanthropist | Essential Twenty

Oh look, I’ve managed to spend another weekend in London at the theatre. Whilst thousands of people took to the West End on Saturday to celebrate Pride, I headed to the theatre to see two clothes that are closing pretty soon. The two shows I’m going to be talking about next were not seen in this order, but it seemed daft to let you know my thoughts on a show that closes in under two weeks when it has less than a week left of its run. So today is all about The Philanthropist, written by Christopher Hampton, directed by Simon Callow and starring a host of actors that you will definitely recognise.

I don’t necessarily see shows because of who is in them. To be completely honest, I often find it detracts from the show and the actors and actresses with the ‘names’ don’t always bring a lot to the show…other than an audience. However, in the case of The Philanthropist at Trafalgar Studios I was definitely interested. Sure, I probably wouldn’t have been aware of the production if it hadn’t had these actors in (it’s been in my dad’s paper a lot) but being a big fan of Friday Night Dinner, I was interested to see how Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal performed in a theatre environment. Other well known names in the company include Charlotte Ritchie (Fresh Meat; Siblings), Matt Berry (The IT Crowd) and Lily Cole (I’m going to be honest, I only really know her as a model and from St Trinians) so there were many familiar faces.

For £17.50, I was second row with nobody in front of me so I had a wonderful view (A9). However, be aware that if you go to this particular venue (studio one), the seats aren’t very big. It feels very lecture theatre-y and the seats are more like benches than individual chairs. Leg room is also pretty tight, but being on the end I could put my legs out into the aisle when I started to seize up. If you are short like I am, you may want to avoid seats A3-8 due to seats being directly in front with no rake, so you may miss the action. For me, there were no seat complaints at all but it’s definitely something to be aware of when you think the seat sound cheap for where it is!

The Philanthropist follows the life of Philip (Simon Bird) over a 24 hour period. We meet his best friend, his fiancée, a graduate student, a silent student, a suicidal student and an arrogant novelist. Having hosted a pretty poor dinner party, all of the guests pair up with people they perhaps shouldn’t and the next day is not a particularly happy day for the lead character. There was also parliamentary assassination and speak of the planned assassination of 25 novelists in the background which honestly, I don’t understand why it was integral to the plot. That aside, it was a great production.

The Philanthropist | Essential Twenty

There are some great comedic moments, and despite the youth of the cast it was evident that they are all passionate about their art. The timing was perfect and the cast obviously had some wonderful chemistry. I don’t think it could’ve been cast any better, with many of the actors playing roles with similar characteristics to how we are used to seeing them. Personally, Simon Bird and Charlotte Ritchiehad the standout performances of the evening. There were some wonderfully memorised monologues and an energy that must be very difficult to create.

There is an obvious inexperience of the actors when it comes to stage acting, but I feel like this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m sure the recognisable cast has brought an entirely new audience to see the works of Hampton and it’s never a bad thing getting a younger generation out to the theatre. Of course I’d love to have seen Simon Russell Beale’s portrayal of Philip (if you ever get the chance to see him act then do it – I saw him in Deathrap 7 years ago and it was a masterful performance) but he’s definitely much older than the playwright’s intended casting age. Simon Bird played the character well, but it was definitely a more comedic angle than Beale would’ve probably gone for. I can’t say for sure as I never saw it, but I can just imagine it that way.

With less than two weeks to go, if you’ve been um-ing and ah-ing about seeing the show then I definitely think it’s worth a watch. The theatre is intimate enough to feel part of the action and whilst the ending isn’t light hearted at all, the comedy throughout are worth it for a little chuckle. The Philanthropist closes in just 11 days so you’ve got to be quick, but it’s worth getting down to see it.

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