Sunday, 5 June 2016

'The Philanderer' at The Orange Tree Theatre

Last week we went to see the latest revival at the Orange Tree Theatre in the deepest, darkest suburbia of Richmond at the end of the District Line. It's 'The Philanderer' by a certain Mr George Bernard Shaw, a man renowned for fitting as many words as possible into any play. I'm always in two minds about Shaw - I ought to like him but there's always this little piece of dread in my heart whenever tickets are bought for any of his plays. I've seen a few of his over the years - the big beasts of 'Pygmalion' and 'Man and Superman' and some smaller versions such as 'Widowers Houses' at the Orange Tree a few years ago. I enjoyed these but there's still a little knot of fear.

It's the tale of a group of young people who are members of the progressive 'Ibsen Club' that wants to do away with 'manly men and womanly women' and treat people as people. Of course, emotions get in the way and our hero, the philandering philosophy professor, wants to marry one member (Grace) while another (Julia) professes her love and won't step aside. O dear, the problem is always people, of course. Gradually the extended families and fathers of each women are drawn into the discussions as well as a random doctor who ends up marrying Julia (to his later regret).

It's quite a fun play - surprisingly so, I must admit - and not really that dated. Some of the philosophical and theoretical arguments about gender are a bit odd from our 21st century perspective looking back at the 19th century but they rarely get in the way of enjoying the play. There's also an element of modern society that would probably benefit from being exposed to them. Placing the actors in modern dress helped, I think, but why the philanderer had to wear the same jacket and shirt as I was wearing in the audience is beyond me. My beard's better though.

Rupert Young was fun as the philanderer (but please stop tucking your shirt into your trousers throughout - that means your shirt is too short) and Helen Bradbury was suitably icy as the intellectual love interest. The flame-haired Dorothea Myer-Bennett was great as Julia, the clingy lover who doesn't want to let go and get's what she wants in the end (sort of). I saw her in 'The Merchant of Venice' last year at The Globe and was much impressed. Also a shout out to Michael Lumsden as Julia's befuddled dad, Colonel Craven (Michael is, of course, better known as Alistair Lloyd in 'The Archers').

The Orange Tree Theatre is doing something right to get us trekking out to Richmond so keep it up people!

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