Never take seriously what a theatre critic says. That’s never been more true than it is about The Philanderer, now playing at the Shaw Festival. Robert Cushman of the National Post tells chapter and verse about the plot but never quite gets around to saying whether he likes the play or not. At one point he even says he’s going to plagiarize himself from a 2007 review by joking he “would never have joined any club that would have me as a mentor.” Of course, Cushman is also sampling Groucho Marx, not just himself.
Globe and Mail critic J. Kelly Nestruck’s review calls the play “so-so” with only Richard Ouzounian of the Star giving the play four stars out of four. Shaw had a jaundiced view of critics. In The Philanderer, Shaw puts these words in the mouth of Leonard Charteris (ably played by Gord Rand), “He’s a dramatic critic. Didn’t you hear me say that he was the leading representative of manly sentiment in London?” Replies Julia Craven (Moya O’Connell), “You don’t say so. Now really, who’d have thought it! How jolly it must be to be able to go to the theatre for nothing!”
My daughter and I headed for The Philanderer worried that the critics were right. They weren’t. The nine-member cast was superb, the staging excellent, and the repartee and wordplay were marvelous, just as you might expect from Shaw, who also said, “Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”