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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama


The Philanthropist

Christopher Hampton

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To purchase The Philanthropist

Title: The Philanthropist
Author: Christopher Hampton
Genre: Drama
Written: 1970 (rev. 1985)
Length: 72 pages
Availability: in Christopher Hampton: Plays 1 - US
The Philanthropist - UK
in Christopher Hampton: Plays 1 - UK
The Philanthropist - Canada
  • A Bourgeois Comedy
  • First performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London, on 3 August 1970

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertaining though somewhat odd play

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 1/5/2009 Alexis Soloski
The NY Times . 16/1/1992 Mel Gussow
The New York Times . 2/2/1992 Alvin Klein
The New York Times . 27/4/2009 Charles Isherwood

  From the Reviews:
  • "Written by Hampton at the disgustingly precocious age of 23, the comedy offers a neat reversal of Molière's The Misanthrope. (...) But Hampton doesn't make real shapes. Hampton's characters are as thin as Molière's, and his script seems at once less funny and less humane." - Alexis Soloski, The Guardian

  • "It is a highly literate comedy of manners, with sobering undertones. The subjects are academic insularity and artistic arrogance, the assumption that words are more relevant than actions or emotions. Although the play was first presented in 1970, it seems not to have aged at all" - Mel Gussow, The New York Times

  • "If entertaining, witty talk were all, and Mr. Hampton's play overflows with it, The Philanthropist would be a civilized welcome diversion. But the play has substance, satirical edge and two enormously theatrical surprises -- one at the beginning, one at the end." - Alvin Klein, The New York Times

  • "Watching The Philanthropist is quite literally a matter of being stuck in a stuffy room with a bunch of pompous, malicious or dreary writers and academics. Or at least actors portraying them. For sheer dullness, this putative comedy, directed by the talented David Grindley (...) for the Roundabout Theater Company and starring the talented but increasingly mannered Matthew Broderick, beats just about anything on Broadway this season. (...) Unfortunately the comic payoff for Mr. Hamptonís elaborate conceit is dismayingly thin." - Charles Isherwood, The New York Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Philanthropist begins with quite a bang. Philip is a "bachelor don". He is a philologist, pleased and fascinated by words: "it's exactly the right subject for me". A friend of Philip's, Donald, brings a young playwright over, to read from his play. The playwright takes Philip's comments the wrong way and ... well, as Donald says a few days later: "the whole evening was a disaster".
       The next scenes take place before and after a dinner at Philip's. Donald is there, as is Philip's fiancée, Celia, a popular novelist (Braham Head), Liz (interested in Philip), and Araminta.
       Events are also unfolding in the world at large: it seems that the Prime Minister and most of the Cabinet have been done away with (though it isn't cause for too much consternation). Violent death seems all around: there is also an organization called F.A.T.A.L, targetting "twenty-five of the most eminent English writers" -- a list Braham isn't sure he should be "relieved or insulted" not to find himself on.
       Love is also in the air -- or sex, at least. Couples form -- but not quite the ones that should. Philip doesn't ask Celia to stay behind after dinner (though she offers), and finds himself in an unexpected situation. The morning after things sort themselves out, in a way.
       The consequences leave, more or less, things for the best: it turns out that, clearly, Philip isn't quite the right man for Celia after all (or for at least one of his other dinner-guests), for example.
       Hampton offers some witty dialogue and fairly interesting conflicts between the characters. It's an odd play -- with the characters apparently leading such insular lives that the assassination of the most of the members of government hardly touches them at all -- but good entertainment all around. It has also held up well: the author revised it for the 1985 edition, and it doesn't feel very dated. Fun and clever, and quite well done.

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The Philanthropist: Reviews: Christopher Hampton: Other books under review by Christopher Hampton: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Drama under review

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About the Author:

       British playwright Christopher Hampton was born in 1946. He has written and translated numerous plays and screenplays.

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© 2002-2011 the complete review

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