Theatre review: The Philanderer – its topicality has long since waned

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Perhaps it works as some sort of anthropological character study but despite its excellent cast there is little sparkle and certainly nothing wickedly wicked in George Bernard Shaw’s The Philanderer, currently on stage at The Arts Club Stanley Theatre.

Originally published in 1989 as part of a collection called Plays Unpleasant, The Philanderer tells the story of Leonard Charteris (Tom Scholte) who finds himself attracted to the widowed Grace Tanfield (Kerry Sandomirsky).  Problem is, Charteris must first rid himself of Julia Craven (Anna Galvin) who still clings to the hope he will marry her, despite Charteris having moved on to Grace.

The woman, much to the begrudging annoyance of Grace and Julia’s fathers (Bernard Cuffling and David Marr), are also members of the Ibsen Club with its ideals that put women on the same playing surface as their male counterparts.  For the turn-of-the-century this idea was no doubt shockingly hilarious.  In 2011 all it gets is a mild titter as the women stand up for themselves, smoke cigarettes and displace the men by the fireplace.

The cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company presentation of The Philanderer
The cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of The Philanderer. Photo by David Cooper.

I admit trying to write about a show like The Philanderer is tough since most of what I had problems with comes from how dated Shaw’s script is and not from the fine group of actors assembled, the fine costumes from Phillip Clarkson and the fine set design from Alison Green.

In the end there was simply little that resonated with me.  While in perhaps knowing that Shaw gave The Philanderer the subtitle “A Topical Comedy of the Year 1893” helps place it into some cultural context, that topicality has long since waned.

As its 500th production I think I would have much preferred a re-mount of Light Up The Sky, the show that started it all for The Arts Club.

3 Out of 5 Stars The Philanderer

By George Bernard Shaw.  Directed by Rachel Ditor.  An Arts Club Theatre Company production.  On stage at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage through April 17, 2011.

Visit for tickets and information.

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