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Sell a Door Theatre Company present

The Philanderer

Photo by Robert Gooch


Written by Bernard Shaw


Directed by Bart Williams


Produced by David Hutchinson


Greenwich Playhouse


20 July – 15 August 2010








A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Before I ascended the old wooden staircase to the black rectangular attic prism that is the Greenwich Playhouse, the chirpiest front-of-house promoter, Scott, confirmed that The Philanderer had not been performed in London for twenty years. But why, I asked myself? So as I descended the wooden staircase a couple of hours later, the question still loomed, but this time with the much more positive emphasis, ‘Why the hell not?’

Charteris is the philanderer, a charming philosopher caught between the overtly ‘womanly’ obsession of Julia and the clinically intellectual love of Grace. The battleground is the progressive and liberal Ibsen Club, inspired by the Norwegian’s sociological ideals; it treats men and women with complete equality. Or so it claims. In fact, the club is a crèche for self-important, unbalanced individuals who writhe in the sticky blanket of Charteris’s lies. With the introduction of both Julia and Grace’s fathers, generations tussle, as Charteris attempts to syllogise himself into paternal favour, and absolve himself from Julia’s sentiments.

The success of this comedy rests on the characterisation of Charteris - Shaw has provided the wit, but the actor (and director) must perfect his poise. And what a poise it is. Michael Longhi commands the stage with the confidence of a lion-tamer, no doubt keenly envisaged by the directorial insight of Bart Williams. He perches dotingly on the chaise-longue, waltzes adorably across the floor, and has a naturalism which extends to ad lib replacements of erring props – his elegant book pick-up was smoother than the mock alabaster statue of Ibsen’s bust. His composure is suitably opposed by Kelli White’s melodrama as Julia, but this is said without scorn, as a character such as Julia is best-dressed in floods of tears and spoilt wails. My only criticism of the acting is that the older characters were perhaps not quite old enough, and by that I mean they lacked the severity and pomp of the turn-of-the-century gentleman. And yet, perhaps within the levelling walls of the Ibsen club it suits them to become more humble.

Accurate historical representations leave little room for creative set designers, but while both set and costume are predictable, they provide a natural home for the characters within. The set is aesthetically fitting: an exquisite tea set, well-leafed hardbacks on the mantelpiece and a varnished gate-leg table are just a scatter of the objects which nourish the authenticity of this period piece. The costumes are immaculate and matching: waist-coated suits and broad-knotted ties for the gentlemen with pastel-coloured hats and embroidered shawls for the ladies. Surprisingly, the most interesting feature of the set was how it changed. In between scenes, the page, energetically played by Adam Glass, would begin a 60-second solo chess game, moving chairs from one place to another then back again and practically flinging books from table to table. It was exceedingly entertaining and an inventive injection of slapstick into a play most respected for its exceptional linguistics.

The play is worth seeing for three reasons: one, who knows when you’ll next get a chance, perhaps another twenty years (!); two, because it is frightfully entertaining (excuse the fin de siècle adjective); and three, and most importantly, because it shows what achievements young companies can create on low budgets and low exposure. You only have to glance at the programme to see that all the set is on loan and that all the cast and production team work for free. This production shows the desire of young theatre practitioners to create sharp and professional-quality productions at whatever the cost. But careful now, supporting this young theatre company is no act of charity, it is rather an investment in laughter and a reminder of the incompatibility of the love of knowledge (philosophy) and the love of the heart (well … err … love).

Live merry, but don’t philander.


Greenwich Playhouse
Greenwich Station Forecourt
189 Greenwich High Road
SE10 8JA

Mon - Sat @ 7.30pm; Sun @ 4pm

Box Office: 020 8858 9256

Tickets: £12/£10






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