WHAT’S ON NOVEMBER: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists brought to life on stage
Townsend Theatre Productions has announced the return of its critically acclaimed stage adaptation of Robert Tressell’s 1914 novel, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.
For the first time ever this new version of the play will be presented as a single performer show, featuring writer and actor Neil Gore, and will comprise an Edwardian Magic Lantern Show, political conjuring tricks and live music and song as the audience joins the performer through the events surrounding the renovation of a large townhouse, meeting the many familiar and infamous characters from the book.
Between 2011 and 2015 the company toured a two-man version of the show in a variety of venues across the country, receiving four and five star reviews from The Times, Liverpool Echo, Whatsonstage, and a recommendation from veteran film director Ken Loach.
Due the warm reception the play received across the country, Gore and director Louise Townsend have revised the production, transforming it into a one-man show complete with speeches, audience participation and songs from the classic book, featuring the Great Money Trick as its centrepiece.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a unique document. A novel of humour and sharply observed characterisation, it is also a passionate defence of socialist ideas and one of the first truly imaginative portrayals of life written from a working-class perspective.
The book charts a year in the lives of a group of painters and decorators in the town of Mugsborough at the turn of the last century. Haunted by fears of unemployment, the men struggle to keep their jobs at any cost but, in the course of events, some of them begin to realise that their condition of miserable poverty is neither ‘natural’ or ‘just’.
These workers, the ‘philanthropists’ of the title, who throw themselves into back-breaking work for poor wages to generate profit for their ‘masters’ are joined by an artist, Owen, whose spirited attacks on the dishonesty of capitalism, along with his socialist vision, highlight their workplace exploitation and the inequality in society as a whole.
Writer and adapter of the book, Neil Gore said: “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was published originally in 1914, but the themes explored in the book are still relevant today. When Tressell wrote the book, Britain was on the brink of war, and the majority of the population were living in a very tight economy with low wages and appalling working and living conditions.
“Questions were being raised about the reliability of those thought to be ‘masters’; and the capitalist system was under scrutiny by those who considered it responsible for massive and growing inequalities in society. These themes will resonate with many working and living in our current regime of austerity, where wages and working conditions are squeezed and where many struggle for the basic necessities of life in the midst of spiralling rises in the cost of living and housing. Meanwhile the richest in society just seem to be getting richer. Recent Government policy would seem to be driving us backwards into the vast inequalities that existed in Tressell’s time.
“What’s so special about the book, and what to expect from the play, is how it relates so closely to everyone’s experience of work: the workplace hierarchy; petty and amusing incidents of workplace rivalry; workers’ good-natured humour and banter; hostility to political change and the acceptance of greed as inevitable and a natural way of life.
“All these aspects of life will be portrayed through theatrical tricks, songs, Magic Lantern projection and skilled performance of lively, relevant characterisation and rich storytelling offering a good night out for all.”