Where: Outer London
23 July 2010 WOS Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews George Bernard Shaw liked his little jokes. Most of The Philanderer, his second play, written in 1893 but not performed until 1905, is set in the Ibsen Club, where men are not allowed to be manly, nor women womanly. The theatre at the end of the 19th-century was in the grip of Ibsen’s social dramas, and Shaw was poking fun at feminist drama as epitomised by A Doll’s House, whilst himself setting up a robust debate about the New Woman in society and the nature of love.
This production (directed by
Bart Williams) is a spirited affair and a reminder that early Shaw could be much closer to farce than one imagines. Leonard Charteris, the self-confessed philanderer of the title, thinks himself in love with two women, the serene, free-thinking widow Grace Tranfield, and the irritatingly petulant Julia Craven. He seems perfectly happy to lose both of them, however, because the person he is really in love with is himself.
Other satirical targets are Victorian fatherhood and the medical profession – the latter in the person of Dr Paramore (
Darren Munn), whose discovery of a new liver disease is quickly debunked, leading to the eternally vexed Colonel Craven being suddenly reprieved from a gruesome diet and an early death.
Shaw fell out of love with this play, feeling it had become dated by 1930, and in truth it is rough around the edges. The constant allusions to Ibsen and Ibsenism overextend the joke, and Charteris, for all his wit and swagger, is a puffed up bore. However, there are some delightful lines, such as “You might have married him not because you loved him, but because you didn't love anybody else. When one is young, one marries out of mere curiosity, just to see what it's like".
Michael Longhi looks every inch the young blade and plays Charteris for all he is worth, but lacks the verbal dexterity that would give him extra polish. Marcus Taylor as Craven does a very nice line in curmudgeonly self-pity, and Kelli White endows Julia with all the suspiciously ‘womanly’ emotionalism one could wish for. Sarine Sofair as Grace and Robert Rowe as her father have the exact measure of Shaw – a light touch and an inner humanity – and they give a welcome balance to a production that occasionally races ahead of itself in its willingness to be entertaining. Shaw is a rare choice for small-scale theatre companies. This shows what can be done.
– Giles Cole
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