THE RAGGED TROUSERED PHILANTHROPISTS
by Robert Tressell adapted by Neil Gore from the play by Stephen Lowe.
Tour to 15 July 2012.
Runs: 2hr 15min One interval.
Review: Alan Geary 8 March 2012 at Lakeside Arts Centre Nottingham.
Compelling, entertaining, touching – and simplistic.
This entertaining two-hander from Townsend Productions is a version of the original full-cast play by Nottingham’s Stephen Lowe. That itself was adapted from Robert Tressell’s famous proletarian novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.
Like the book, a classic rage against capitalism, it’s concerned with the exploitation of workers in the painting and decorating business in the years before the Great War. But if you enjoyed the book as a young man and see this in – let’s be kind – late middle age you might feel that this particular adaptation lacks the didactic punch of the original.
Rodney Matthew and Neil Gore, also the adapter, play a multitude of sharply-delineated, even caricatured, individuals splendidly: Mr Didlum, Mayor Sweater, Bob Crass and the rest of them. They also entertain with songs and a variety of musical instruments. In fact the sing-along musical element, insofar as it reduces the political thrust of the evening, gets in the way somewhat. So does the, surely anachronistic, intrusion of a Max Miller gag near the start of the play.
This is a pity because the critique of capitalism laid down so entertainingly by Frank Owen, the Tressell figure – some obliging members of the audience were cheerfully press-ganged to help out – is a compelling, if extremely simplistic, one. It was simplistic even in 1906, when the original novel was written.
But the play touches with the truth when it shows how religiosity was tied up with the English working-class movement in a way that it wasn’t on the continent. It’s also quite a treat to see your southern working class – this is set in Mugsborough (Hastings) – portrayed, as a change from the tired old northern variety.
Some back projection onto one of the white decorator’s sheets, including a magic lantern show, and even some puppetry are brought into effective use.
Cast: Neil Gore, Rodney Matthew.
Director: Louise Townsend.
Designer: Fine Time Fontayne.
Musical Director: Neil Gore.