The Philanthropist

Trafalgar Studio 1
Whitehall, London

Previewed: 3 April 2017
Opened: 20 April 2017
Closes: 22 July 2017

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Nearest Tube: Charing Cross

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Show times
Monday at 7.30pm
Tuesday at 7.30pm
Wednesday at 7.30pm
Thursday at 2.30pm and 7.30pm
Friday at 7.30pm
Saturday at 2.30pm and 7.30pm
Sunday no shows

Runs ? hours and ? minutes

Seat prices
£? to £?
(plus booking fees if applicable)

The Philanthropist

A major revival of Christopher Hampton's play The Philanthropist in London starring Matt Berry, Simon Bird, Lily Cole, Charlotte Ritchie and Tom Rosenthal

The Prime Minister and his cabinet have been assassinated and England's most treasured writers are being murdered one by one. Back at the university, a bachelor don tries hard to please his academic friends as he anguishes over sex, marriage, anagrams and the meaning of life. Written by Christopher Hampton as a response to Moliere's The Misanthrope and first performed at the Royal Court in 1970, this biting 'bourgeois comedy' examines the empty, insular lives of college intellectuals.

The cast features Simon Bird as 'Philip', Charlotte Ritchie as 'Celia', Matt Berry as 'Braham', Tom Rosenthal as 'Donald' and Lily Cole as 'Araminta' with Lowenna Melrose as 'Liz'. Directed by Simon Callow with designs by Libby Watson, lighting by Mike Robertson and sound by Avgoustous Psillas. Christopher Hampton's plays recently seen in the West End include Treats starring Billie Piper, Kris Marshall and Laurence Fox at the Garrick Theatre in 2007 and Embers starring Jeremy Irons at the Duke of York's Theatre in 2007. He is perhaps best known for Les Liaisons Dangereuses which was revived in 2004 at the Playhouse Theatre starring Jared Harris, Polly Walker and Emilia Fox. Simon Callow's West End directing credits include John Fisher's play about Tommy Cooper Jus' Like That! starring Jerome Flynn at the Garrick Theatre in 2003 and a revival of The Pajama Game starring Leslie Ash at the Victoria Palace Theatre in 1999.

When this production opened at the Trafalgar Studios in April 2017, Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph held that, "given that we've seen two duddy West End takes on Molière of late - The Miser and Don Juan in Soho - you could say that this cool, crisp, English appropriation, rendered with a keen eye for period dress-sense by director Simon Callow is third time lucky. Callow has certainly struck gold with leading man Simon Bird... he delivers the goods by subtle incremental means, the thespian equivalent of a 3D printer... overall the production works like a bleakly amusing charm and, for those who've not seen the play before, it's a treat." Neil Norman in the Daily Express noted how "what was once considered clever now seem like adolescent shock tactics. The play might have been redeemed by a director who could draw out the humour or at least contextualise it to make sense of a revival. Callow does neither... Unremittingly tedious." Paul Taylor in the i Newspaper said that "Simon Bird is very good, and funny, at the nerdy, wordy aspects of his character but I never felt Philip was in touch with despair. A strange play to unearth now." Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times commented how "Simon Callow's revival is enterprisingly cast with young, well-known performers who have masses of comic experience to draw on. Yet the tone is uncertain from the outset, many aspects of the play have dated very badly, the cast often look uncomfortable and adrift, and the piece all but grinds to a halt in the darker second half." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard wrote that, "after a promising first few minutes it turns out to be a woeful dud, in which flashes of wit in Christopher Hampton's Seventies play are routinely missed," addig that "While Simon Callow's production is easy on the eye, mainly thanks to Libby Watson's elegant design, there's little else to admire. There's no chemistry between the performers, who often look ill at ease. The result is two very long hours. As joke after joke fails to land the play ends up seeming thin and tedious. The whole venture feels misconceived." Dominic Maxwell in the Times explained that in "Simon Callow's atypically terrible new revival of Christopher Hampton's 1970 hit - it's a reminder of the theatre maxim that 90 per cent of the director's job is casting. There's talent in this young, television-famous cast who, for once with this comedy set in an unnamed Oxbridgey university, are the right age for their characters... Yet Hampton's play needs crack stage acting if it is to have emotion as well as snark. It needs experience... Instead it's more like a spirited student production than something worthy of the West End." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail highlighted that "trendy casting and weak direction are the undoing of a revival of Christopher Hampton’s 1971 comedy The Philanthropist. Few of the cast have much stage experience and you only wish director Simon Callow had given himself a part... I quite enjoyed it. Mr Hampton’s script has some subtle gems but it is so sparing in its comical crests that even experienced actors might struggle. No doubt this cast will improve as the three-month run unfolds." Michael Billington in the Guardian thought that, "despite the best efforts of Simon Callow as director the relative theatrical inexperience of the cast is clear and deprives the play of emotional texture... I would still recommend the play to those who have never seen it... but this [cast] gives Christopher Hampton's play – even down to a gratuitously comic curtain call – the air of a lightweight diversion."

"Sadly, Simon Callow's production of Christopher Hampton's comedy The Philanthropist is the weakest work I have seen from the actor/director... Despite its warmth and wit, the play seems both slight and dated. Its failings are grossly exacerbated by the performances. For reasons best known at the box office, Callow has cast the play exclusively from TV actors and celebrities. To a man - and, even more, to a woman - they fail to command the stage. Never have actors who have made their name in one medium looked so cruelly exposed in another. With such superficial readings the play sags, drags, and its tragicomedy is reduced to gags. Only the most philanthropic audiences could enjoy this one." The Sunday Express

"This young man's play premiered when Hampton was just 23. Here it gets a young cast, honed in TV comedies of humiliation such as Fresh Meat and The Inbetweeners. Yet everyone sounds irredeemably middle-aged in Simon Callow's stilted production. On a bright white stage, they all speak in a staccato lunge — except Lily Cole, who recites with glacial languor, as if giving dictation. They titter at laborious witticisms while the audience listens in polite silence. This unengaging crew includes Charlotte Ritchie's spiteful fiancée, Tom Rosenthal's squawking don and Matt Berry's self-regarding novelist, a clickbait provocateur before his time. Least charmless is Simon Bird, giving unmeant offence, committing adultery out of politeness. It's he who hints at the play's mournful underbelly, its terror of isolation, where Philip lives 'a full life — and an empty one'." The Sunday Times

"Christopher Hampton's play is adored by some for its witty inversion of Moliere's Misanthrope but it's hard to discern its virtues (or excuse its dated sexual politics) in Simon Callow's cynically conceived revival, which often feels as flat as the white surfaces of Libby Watson's set. Oh it's passable enough, with Tom Rosenthal in particular the source of several lemon-tart one liners and Charlotte Ritchie doing the best she can with Phil's fiancée Celia. But Callow never captures the play's very particular comic shifts, while poor Simon Bird is all at sea with Phil, whose loneliness is - or rather, ought to be - the oomph that gives this shallow conceit of a play some emotional heft. Mainly, though, this production makes you think of The Miser up the road - another Moliere-inspired show seemingly put together purely on the basis the cast are well known on TV." The London Mero

The Philanthropist in London at the Trafalgar Studio 1 previewed from 3 April 2017, opened on 20 April 2017 and closes on 22 July 2017


London Revival at the Donmar Warehouse 2005

Previewed 8 September 2005, Opened 13 September 2005, Closed 15 October 2005 at the Donmar Warehouse in London

The cast features Simon Russell Beale as 'Philip' with Anna Madeley as 'Celia', Simon Day as 'Braham', Bernadette Russell as 'Liz', Simon Bubb as 'John', Siobhan Hewlett as 'Araminta' and Danny Webb as 'Donald'. Directed by David Grindley with designs by Tim Shortall, lighting by Rick Fisher and sound by Gregory Clarke.

"Time and Simon Russell Beale have worked wonders on Christopher Hampton's finest play. Subtitled 'a bourgeois comedy', its hero's humanity an antidote to the blistering invective of Moliere's Misanthrope, The Philanthropist has lost none of its satirical force since its 1970 premiere. It re-emerges as a ravishing tragicomedy of sexual manners and morals, in a world of cloistered university academics who gladly let the world of politics, with Prime Minister and Cabinet assassinated, pass them by. I can hardly believe how moved, amused and overwhelmed I was by Russell Beale... He is Philip, a chronically polite and affable philology don, a man uneasy in his own skin and fearful of causing displeasure. Hampton makes him a fascinating psychosexual study with few equals in contemporary drama. The part suits Russell Beale, who wears an expression of chronic anxiety, like a vocation. With what comicpathetic sadness he lets a chance of happiness, in the shape of sexy Celia, slip through hands that shrink from any self-assertive utterance... Russell Beale, growing quieter and cooler the more desperate his attempt to win back Celia, does something magically poignant. He makes Philip's weak, humane personality and psychological flaws the source of both laughter and fascinated sympathy." The London Evening Standard

"Nearly 40 years on it has dated tremendously, though the basic joke of Oxbridge academics so wrapped up in their incestuous emotional and sexual lives that they can't see any kind of reality, still works well enough. And Simon Russell Beale, though perhaps a little old for the title character, is wonderfully wobbly as the wordsmith forever saying the wrong thing. Christopher Hampton has always said the play was conceived as a response to Moliere's Le Misanthrope, but in fact it's a pointed satire on English academic, sexual and social life in the late Sixties, one which may strike the Donmar's younger audiences as rather like leafing through the pages of an old college magazine. Armed only with the courage of his lack of convictions, Russell Beale dominates a series of conversation pieces even when unfathomably placed by director David Grindley in a high armchair with his back to the audience... As a period piece it holds up very well, not least because of Hampton's dry, waspish wit, much admired at the time by Noel Coward no less... In the end this is a play about a man who can deal with everything except reality, who can play with words but never quite get them to say what he means." The Daily Express

"David Grindley has revived The Philanthropist at the Donmar and it is very nearly perfect. When Christopher Hampton wrote this play in 1972 his idea was to turn Moliere's The Misanthrope (1666) on its head. In an experiment contrived to prove that the end result would he the same for both types of men, he replaced the intolerant Alceste with Philip, a compulsively nice fellow who spends his days in a permanent state of sweetnatured dither. Simon Russell Beale is very, very good as Philip, the pappy, fearful Oxford professor of philology who is determinedly nice to the point of being obtuse. He displays such urgent symptoms of extreme, raw agitation, fidgety ties and mad blinking, you daren't take your eyes off him lest he self-combust." The Sunday Telegraph

"Christopher Hampton's 1970 play - subtitled 'A Bourgeois Comedy' - is subtle to the point of evaporation... It is Simon Russell Beale who gives a slight play a real sense of solidity, however, capturing Philip's donnish demeanour with twitchy accuracy. A mass of fluttering neuroses, he has the startled, threadbare look of a stuffed owl in a provincial museum, as British as an umbrella in July. His fiancee comes and sits next to him, and he flinches. When the leggy Araminta (Siobhan Hewlett) attempts to seduce him, he looks as if he has a gun at his head. In a tough world. it's eat or be eaten, and Philip needs to learn to face the truth. David Grindley's elegant production reveals that The Philanthropist is an anagram of a great play - it might be 'A Bourgeois Comedy' brittle with wordplay, but human nature lies somewhere inside. In its own way, it's quietly shocking." The Sunday Times

The Philanthropist in London at the Donmar Warehouse previewed from 8 Septmeber 2005, opened on 13 September 2005, closed on 15 October 2005


1st West End Revival at Wyndham's Theatre 1991

Previewed 8 May 1991, Opened 15 May 1991, Closed 5 October 1991 at the Wyndham's Theatre

The cast features Edward Fox as 'Philip' with Tim Brooke-Taylor, Sarah Berger and Frank Barrie along with Jennifer Calvert, Angus Pope and Harriet Harrison. Directed by Kenneth Ives with sets by Eileen Diss, costumes by Jane Robinson and lighting by Leonard Tucker.


Original London West End Production - Royal Court / Mayfair Theatre 1970

Previewed 29 July 1970, Opened 3 August 1970, Closed 5 September 1970 at the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs
Transferred 7 September 1970, Closed 27 October 1973 at the Mayfair Theatre

The original cast featured Alec McCowen as 'Philip' with Jane Asher, Dinsdale Landen, Charles Gray, Penelope Wilton and David Ashton. Directed by Robert Kidd with designs by John Gunter. George Cole took over as 'Philip' from March 1971, followed by Nigel Hawthorne from March 1973.