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For as long as I can remember, Simon Callow has been a larger than life character, impressive on film and charismatic on stage, yet his new production of Christopher Hampton’s 1970 “bourgeois comedy” is a rather bland affair, often lacking in depth and energy and desperately in need of a shot of whatever it is (experience, perhaps?) that Callow possesses as a performer.

Hampton was only 23, and a recent Oxford graduate, when he wrote what should be a playfully astute portrayal (complete with poignant undertones) of privileged university life, cocooned from the realities of an outside world  where, weirdly, the PM and cabinet have just been assassinated by a terrorist. The young, high profile cast fails to do it justice, though.

credit: Manuel Harlan

As offensive novelist Braham, Matt Berry (from TV’s The It Crowd) may look flamboyant in his purple velvet suit (so 60’s) but seems to be reciting his lines. Lily Cole’s predatory, promiscuous Araminta floats fabulously in a maxi dress but has adopted a peculiar faux posh accent. And although Tom Rosenthal passes muster as an indolent don (called Donald) he looks a decade younger than the student he and fellow academic Philip (a philologist, natch) are tutoring in the play’s clever opening scene.

The Inbetweeners’ Simon Bird catches the awkwardness (but can’t yet find the underlying pathos) of the central character - anagram obsessed, ineffectual Philip who unintentionally causes an awful lot of damage by trying so hard not to offend. Charlotte Ritchie, though, brings real feeling to the role of Celia, his unlikely fiancée and co-host of an ivory-tower dinner party which leads to some unexpected – and far from successful - pairings off.

Trafalgar Studios

Whitehall, SW1A 2DY

Tube: Charing Cross

 till 22nd July 2017    

£26.50 - £62.50 + Premium Seats



Theatre Review: The Philanthropist
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