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Charlotte Ritchie, Matt Berry, Tom Rosenthal, Simon Bird and Lily Cole in The Philanthropist (Photo: Shaun Webb)

Simon Callow directs all-star Philanthropist cast

Published February 22, 2017

Simon Callow will direct a new production of Oscar® winner Christopher Hampton’s most celebrated play, The Philanthropist, at the Trafalgar Studios, starring Matt Berry, Simon Bird, Lily Cole, Charlotte Ritchie and Tom Rosenthal.

This classic hit comedy features some of today’s best young comedic actors playing the roles at the age Christopher Hampton first intended. The Philanthropist is produced by Howard Panter for Trafalgar Entertainment Group, Simon Friend and Gavin Kalin, and begins previews on Monday 3 April (press night Thursday 20 April), running until Saturday 22 July.

The play has been delighting audiences since its premiere at the Royal Court in 1970. A biting ‘bourgeois comedy’ and a fiendishly clever inversion of Moliere’s ‘The Misanthrope’, Simon Callow’s new production boasts some of today’s most exciting young stage and screen actors.

“I am a man of no convictions. At least I think I am.” As central character Philip, played by Simon Bird, says.

Set in a fictitious English University town, strongly evoking Oxford or Cambridge, the play follows 24 hours in the lives of a group of young academics. The action unfolds in the rooms of Philip (Simon Bird), the university’s cosseted and floundering professor of philology, for whom solace and certitude exist in complex wordplay. Out in the ‘real world’ the Prime Minister and his cabinet have been assassinated and England’s most treasured writers are being murdered one by one! Back in the cosy bubble of university life, the bachelor don anguishes over sex, marriage, anagrams and the meaning of life. Did someone suggest academics were ‘out of touch’?

When Philip hosts a dinner party, joined by his stylish and perceptive fiancée Celia (Charlotte Ritchie), his worldlier best friend Donald (Tom Rosenthal), the seductive Araminta (Lily Cole), and the wealthy and egomaniacal novelist Braham (Matt Berry), the evening sets off a chain of events which puncture the rarefied and cerebral world they inhabit. The morning after, the group is left to wade through the emotional detritus and navigate the consequences of their actions.

Acclaimed director Simon Callow says: “When Christopher Hampton’s The Philanthropist first burst onto the world, he was 23; the play was really about his contemporaries, but neither then, nor ever since, has it been cast at the right age. I’m very excited, not only to be doing the play, which I think one of the funniest, sharpest plays in the English language, but to be doing it with a group of brilliantly witty and original young actors who will reveal the play as it’s never been seen before”.

BAFTA award winning writer, actor and musician Matt Berry is best known for his roles in comedy hits The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh (BBC3), and as star and writer of sitcom Toast of London (Channel 4), while Simon Bird is best known for his star-making turn in the hugely successful, BAFTA winning The Inbetweeners (E4) which ran for three series, and its two globally successful movies (The Inbetweeners Movie still holds the record for highest grossing UK opening weekend for any comedy film).

Lily Cole’s screen credits include St Trinian’s, Ab Fab: The Movie, and Snow White And The Huntsman, while Tom Rosenthal has established himself as one of the UK’s foremost stand-up and screen comedians, known for his roles in hit comedies Friday Night Dinner (Channel 4), alongside his The Philanthropist co-star Simon Bird, and the British Comedy Award winning series Plebs (ITV2). 

Completing the cast is Charlotte Ritchie, best known as Nurse Barbara Gilbert in the much lauded drama series Call the Midwife (BBC 1). Ritchie has also showcased her comedic skills in hit comedies Fresh Meat (Channel 4) and Siblings (BBC3). Her theatre credits include One Night in November and the recent successful production of Private Lives.

Christopher Hampton’s other works for the stage include Les Liaisons Dangereuses (recently revived to great acclaim) and Treats. He has also recently received significant acclaim for his translations of three of the internationally acclaimed French dramatist Florian Zeller’s plays; the award-winning smash hit The Father as well as The Mother and The Truth.

Simon Callow has directed over 30 shows, including the multi award-winning musical Carmen Jones, the West End and Broadway productions of Shirley Valentine and the award-winning Single Spies by Alan Bennett at the National Theatre and in the West End. Most recently, he has published his second Wagner biography, Being Wagner: The Triumph of the Will (Cole Williams).

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"I’m very excited, not only to be doing the play, which I think one of the funniest, sharpest plays in the English language, but to be doing it with a group of brilliantly witty and original young actors who will reveal the play as it’s never been seen before”.