The Philanderer

George Bernard Shaw
Sell a Door Theatre Company
Greenwich Playhouse
(2010)

Production photo

Mrs.Warren's Profession was last seen in the West End earlier this year and now Shaw's The Philanderer comes to Greenwich for a four week run. If Widowers' Houses makes an appearance within the next five months, then Shaw fans will have been able to see all three of his Plays Unpleasant in the capital during 2010.

Love triangles are never favourable, but it seems Charteris relishes his philanderer status, even though it does give him quite a headache what with tantrum prone Julia on one side and stern Grace on the other. Shaw is famous for his social criticism, most evident in The Philanderer, and Sell a Door are successful in their aim to make its audience think about just how much society has progressed since the play's first staging in 1902.

Michael Longhi plays the lead, Charteris, with great energy and panache. Never stationary, he darts about the acting area in a flamboyant, almost Dandy like style, often trying to escape the affections of his apparent lovers or the wrath of their families. Longhi has something of a young Tim Curry about him and his approach to the role seems to combine Curry's Rooster in Annie with his Dr.Frank N Furter in The Rocky Horror Show.

His Charteris has Rooster's charm, slickness, and zest for life alongside Frank N Furter's flamboyancy, campness, and passion for passion. This may sound like a match made in hell, but it works perfectly and is a truly inspired approach. Perhaps unwittingly, this also sheds fresh light on the character himself and allows for a new reading of the piece. Is the reason behind Charteris never fully committing to any woman due to his sexuality?

As part of the Ibsen Club he is proud not to be a 'manly man' and with Marcus Taylor as Craven putting what seemed to be an emphasis on 'Cock' when reminding Charteris that 'You like a Cock and Hen Club, I do not', new undertones relating to bi- or homosexuality arise in the text. The ghosting of Freddy Mercury's appearance through Longhi's moustache and haircut adds yet another fascinating layer to the character visually, and begs the question: Is Charteris' overt philandering all just a mask to hide a deep dark secret?

As Julia, Kelli White does well to display her character's annoying nature. However it seems that, regardless of scene, the same cycle of direction is constantly repeated: whine, shout, attack, whimper, groan. For the first few times this is highly comedic and reminiscent of Helena's 'I am your spaniel' speech to Demetrius in A Midsummer Night's Dream. White deftly uses her facial expressions to extract the humour from her actions, but when this cycle is repeated over and over again her character becomes one dimensional and predictive.

Shaw calls for Julia to be an attention seeker, who cries like a baby in order to get anything she wants, but this does not mean that she can't show some deeper emotion; not everything has to be played for laughs. To see some of the character's insecurity and vulnerability would have been a nice change to the melodramatic wailing and flailing of this comic caricature.

Praise must go to Kirsty Lee Turner as Sylvia and Sarine Sofair as Grace who demonstrate some perfect acting. They truly understand their roles and have their characterisation off to a tee. Director Bart Williams has done well to utilise the Greenwich Playhouse space so effectively and the production runs at a nice pace thanks to his lively direction.

In the preface to the 1930 edition of the play, Shaw wrote, 'The more topical a play is, the more it dates. The Philanderer suffers from this complaint.' What Shaw might be most interested in were he alive today, would be to see that although firmly rooted in the Victorian era, the debates over equality, gender roles and science are still reigning 80 years on in 2010.

Playing until 15th August 2010

Reviewer: Simon Sladen