The Philanderer (2016)

Rupert stars as Leonard Charteris, The Philanderer himself, in this play written by George Bernard Shaw. This production is directed by Paul Miller for the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, and runs until 25 June.

update 7 December 2016: Rupert has been nominated as Best Actor for The Philanderer, which has also garnered other nominations, in the Broadway World UK awards. You can vote here!

I went to the first show this evening, after an afternoon with Delacroix at the National Gallery and a three-course meal at Carluccio’s. That took care of body and soul, and the play took care of heart and mind!

Not being familiar with Shaw as a playwright, I was surprised by how witty and wordy it all was. Rupert came out firing on all cylinders; he’s just so good at this kind of clever, persuasive dialogue.

The Philanderer production photo by The Other Richard, with Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Julia Craven
The Philanderer production photo by The Other Richard, with Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Julia Craven

Helen Bradbury (Grace Tranfield) and Dorothea Myer-Bennett (Julia Craven) play the women Charteris is involved with, and do a fine job with two rather different characters. Indeed, the whole cast did a terrific job – and it seems unfair to even think about picking anyone out for special mention, though I have to say that Michael Lumsden (Colonel Craven) made me laugh, and made the most of his character’s various actions and reactions.

The clashes in theory and practice between the older, protective fathers, and the modern, independent younger characters, sparked a great deal of humour. The repartee bounced back and forth like a professional tennis match, made all the more interesting because no one was entirely wrong, and certainly no one was entirely right.

The whole thing was very funny, and the audience were carried along by the humour right from the start. Being rather partial to the actor, it’s quite possible that I was swayed more towards the philandering side of the argument than Shaw really intended. Rupert sauntered insouciantly along the line between charm and a refreshing honesty on one side, and unscrupulous manipulativeness on the other – and made it look effortless, too. He shouldn’t be so good at this. It plays delicious havoc with my heart.

The play was performed in the round, with two levels of seating. I haven’t been to the Orange Tree before, but I understand this is the permanent set-up. The place is so small that there are no bad seats in terms of views! (I have to say they are not Julie-sized seats, however.)

The sets were minimal but effective, with the whole being suggested by a few bits of furniture and props. I loved the set for the first act best, which took place in an elegant apartment. Though the other sets were effective, they just weren’t as attractive. Perhaps that was the point, however, as after all this was intended as a satire – and indeed Shaw first published it as one of three Plays Unpleasant, in 1898. (You can read up on it via Wikipedia, though (as usual) beware spoilers!)

Well, I have to say I didn’t find the play unpleasant at all, though it is quite cynical at the core. It’s also fun, and clever, and occasionally very very real. Over a hundred years later, Shaw still has plenty to say – and I love the way Rupert and the rest of the cast say it, too.


The eponymous Philanderer, charismatic Leonard Charteris (all rumpled charm and biting wit shot through with sudden shafts of surprising cruelty in Rupert Young’s debonair performance) finds himself torn between two very different women … Ultimately it is perhaps surprising how refreshingly modern the piece feels, the writing of the dialogue is masterly, and this is a superb cast. All in all, well worth the trip to the end of the District Line. Alun Hood for What’s On Stage

The story follows cad-about–town Charteris – a charismatic Rupert Young – as he manipulates, charms, and condescends to every woman he encounters. … the strong cast keeps the energy high and the dialogue snappy. Dave Fargnoli for The Stage

The performances abound in Shavian vitality. Dorothea Myer-Bennett is outstanding as Julia, suggesting a tiger advancing stealthily on its prey, the crop-haired Helen Bradbury exudes a beautiful poise as the amazing Grace and there is good work from Rupert Young as the egotistical Leonard and Michael Lumsden as Julia’s army-bred dad who, in the play’s funniest line, tells her: “I’m not speaking as your father now – I’m speaking as your commanding officer.” Michael Billington for The Guardian

Rupert as The Philanderer, by Gary for The Daily Mail
Rupert as The Philanderer, by Gary for The Daily Mail

You leave with an impression of much clever irony, good acting – and a vast wodge of words. Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail

The title character of Bernard Shaw’s 1893 play must be one of the most unbearably slappable male leads in English theatre. Leonard Charteris (Rupert Young) is a smug proto-feminist who shamelessly manipulates two women and their respective fathers, in a comedy that’s brought to fizzing life by Orange Tree artistic director Paul Miller. Alice Saville for TimeOut London

Despite Young deploying all of his twinkly-eyed charm, it’s hard to warm to the glib, condescending yet supposedly irresistible Charteris, whom Shaw declines to invest with much inner life. Marianka Swain for

Director Paul Miller subtly puts the play in a contemporary setting, with modern dress and décor without updating the text, in an admirably unfussy and fresh production. … Rupert Young makes an amusingly amoral Charteris, a provocative Ibsenite philosopher who wants to keep his options open but who realises he will always essentially be alone. Neil Dowden for Londonist

The hipster aesthetic is maintained, more subtly, in the modern-with-echoes-of-Victoriana attire of the actors on stage. Rupert Young as Leonard Charteris, the womaniser of the title, wears dark jeans and brogues, complemented with a smart jacket, shirt, tie, pocket square, beard and elegantly dishevelled floppy hair. … Social mores may have changed since Shaw’s day but the sexual politics explored in the play still feel resonant and the author’s sharp wit remains timeless. Young, as Charteris, has a relaxed self-possession and world-weariness and seems a victim of his own, almost unwitting, charm. Peter Coe for The Good Review

As Julia, Dorothea Myer-Bennett is in cracking form. Radiant and spiky, her intelligence pervades every aspect of her performance, whether she is bitter snarl mode or shameless-display-of-feminine-wiles mode. Myer-Bennett makes the character strong and frail, complex and simple: it’s a performance of real grace, real skill. Matching Myer-Bennett’s Julia every step of the way is Rupert Young’s Charteris. Afire with sexual charm and smooth patter, Young insinuates himself into the audience’s affection in exactly the same way he works on Julia and Grace. We know he is appalling but, somehow, he is also appealing. The production’s best moments occur when Young and Myer-Bennett spar, and the delicious scene where divorce is discussed and used as a tantalising tease, a bargaining chip, is a real delight. Stephen Collins for Live Theatre UK

Charteris is a portrait of Shaw and the first draft for John Tanner in Man and Superman; but played by Rupert Young with charm and in a much lower and less blazing key. Robert Tanitch for Mature Times

Helen Bradbury, Dorothea Myer-Bennett and Paksie Vernon are enchanting as three respectively, self-assured, overwrought and mannish young women, and Rupert Young is magnetically brash in the title role. Michael Arditti for Sunday Express

Shaw drew for the character of Julia Craven on his experience with his first, rather late-in-the-day love. Dorothea Myer-Bennett renders this woman, struggling not to live up to her surname, with palpitating, tear-drenched conviction. There is something of Shaw in Rupert Young’s philanderer, though his jutting beard is more persuasive than the delivery of his verbal flights. Helen Bradbury is beautifully cool as the other woman involved in a sexual triangle which is also an intellectual boxing match. Susannah Clapp for The Observer

3 thoughts on “The Philanderer (2016)”

  1. Thanks for sharing the recap of the play. I appreciate your being willing to write in such detail for those of us who won’t have a chance to attend.

    From your positive review, I’ll have to get the play out of the library.

    1. Thank you very much for your comment, and I’m glad you appreciated the post. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the clever dialogue … I’ve just been reading it for the first time, and think it reads well. I hope you agree! :-)

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