Thursday, April 6, 2017, Trafalgar Studios 1
Starring: Simon Bird, Charlotte Ritchie, Tom Rosenthal, Lily Cole, Matt Berry
*This was a preview performance, so the show may alter slightly when critics file their reviews after the official April 20 opening.
I don’t see as many plays as I’d like to, and this one reminded me why I probably should be. It’s funny, while simultaneously making you question a lot of things in life, and isn’t that was great theatre should do? Too often in television and film, you can switch your brain off, but theatre allows you to be engaged, and like the brilliance, I saw last Thursday, raises issues that are still relevant (the play was written by Christopher Hampton in 1971) and makes you question those aspects of your own life. That is what this show manages to do successfully.
The show follows our Philanthropist Phillip (Simon Bird), a college lecturer, who has found success in life. We soon discover that he doesn’t have everything quite right and that there is dysfunction in the domestic between Bird and wife-to-be Celia (Charlotte Ritchie). We follow Phillip through his dinner party to the morning after, including everything in-between…
Ritchie and Lily Cole in the role of the rebellious but relatable Liz brought effective intensity to their performances. Ritchie is dominating while consistently upholding the sense of class and strong-will required for that character. I was also a fan of Tom Rosenthal, having enjoyed him and Bird together in Channel 4’s sitcom Friday Night Dinner in which they play brothers, so with their already previous professional relationship, it’s hard to imagine them being anything other than close friends off-stage too; that chemistry shines through here too as Rosenthal exhibits the right amount of snobbish and understanding through Bird’s struggle. Just saying, Tom Rosenthal particularly enjoyed my enthusiasm at curtain call, with a big smile and thumbs up to me, so naturally, we’re now best friends!
The star of the show, however, is Simon Bird. The Inbetweeners star gives a naturally comedic and an unexpectedly layered performance as Phillip. It was in the show’s second act that Bird’s emotional acting chops were showcased; a highlight was in his monologue explaining that he has no reason to be unhappy, yet is – a ‘for the man who has everything’ scenario, perfectly showcased in Hampton’s words that invest you in the character, so you hang on their every word. It’s relatable, effective and music to the ears when you hear a speech like that that could easily stand on its own if taken out of the play.
I also enjoy seeing how a show ends – not because it is ending – but to experience and take in that final image before the curtain comes down – and this one was very powerful and poignant given where the character is at the end of the play – you’ll see what I mean when you see it! Overall the production was thoroughly engaging and enjoyable; Simon Callow’s direction showcased his understanding of Hampton’s words, and with a cast of this calibre, much like Phillip thought that night, it’s hard not to resist! Pure class!