The Philanderer - At The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

Hilarious Shaw revival of the battle or the sexes, says Penny Flood

This Shaw revival is a hilarious romp through the battle of the sexes with some serious feminist points being made, along with other big issues of the day including, naturally, some of Shaw's hobby horses - vegetarianism, animal rights and Ibsen.

The eponymous philanderer is silver-tongued devil Leonard Charteris, played with scruffy charisma by Rupert Young. Charteris prides himself on his ability to make women fall in love with him while never falling in love himself. The truth of the matter is that he's really only in love with himself, and nothing sticks to him, he never accepts the blame for anything even when it really is his fault, getting away with it using seemingly boundless supplies of charm. His arguments are priceless.

Helen Bradbury

Charteris has got himself mixed up with two women who want to marry him; the beautiful, sophisticated widow Grace (Helen Bradbury), who should know better, and the spoilt brat Julia (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) who is given to histrionics when she can't get her own way. What's a boy to do when deep down he doesn't want to marry either of them, or does he?

Michael Lumsden and Mark Tandy

All this is to the bafflement of the girl's fathers: pompous theatre critic Cutherbertson (Mark Tandy) and blustering , out of touch military man Colonel Craven (Michael Lumsden). They spend some of their time in a gentleman's club called Ibsen which has just started admitting women. A nice counterpoint to the Grace /Julia duo is Julia's sensible sister Sylvia (Paksie Vernon) who works at the club. Charteris' charms don't work with her, she sees right through him, throwing in wry comments as things go along.

But the Charteris / Grace / Julia love triangle isn't the only one, the hapless Dr. Paramore (Christopher Staines), deeply depressed because he' s misdiagnosed liver disease in Colonel Craven who isn't going to die after all, is in love with Julia.

And so it swirls gloriously on, with the feminist arguments which include smoking, working, marriage and independence all tangled up with some other issues of the day - science, medicine, vegetarianism and animal rights. Weaving its way through it all is Julia's obsessive pursuit of Charteris. It is very, very funny.

The only niggle I have with this is its present day setting. It's true some of the feminist arguments presented here are very much of now, but lots of other things aren't. The world has moved on and attitudes, especially those to adultery and divorce, have changed. Nineteenth century opinions look out of place in the twenty first century. This play was written for is time and that's really where it should have stayed.

Penny Flood
Images: Richard Davenport

May 19, 2016