The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists 

Image 1

Fine Time Fontayne (left) and Neil Gore in a scene from The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists: Lighthouse, Poole

With the nation battling economic decline and spiraling job losses there could not be a better time to revive  Stephen Lowe’s critically acclaimed stage adaptation of Robert Tressell’s stinging portrait of worker exploitation.

Although The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was first published nearly a century ago in 1914, this pared down version  featuring just two actors, delivers an instantly recognisable tale of fat-cat bosses and overworked, underpaid staff.

With sterling performances from Fine Time Fontayne and Neil Gore it focuses on a team of decorators slaving for a pittance in the fictional town of Mugsborough. These are the ‘philanthropists’ prepared to undertake a health-wrecking work schedule for near starvation wages to line the pockets of their greedy employers. 

As the company’s sleazy owner and his merciless foremen contrive to pay less but demand more, the price for getting old, slowing-down or simply not fitting in is the sack. With plenty more workers desperate for a job the bosses find it easy to replace their skilled sevenpence-a-day men with basic labourers prepared to work for a halfpenny less. But the men have had enough...

 Playing eleven roles between them, Fontayne and Gore - who are also designer and musical director of the show - inject humour, pathos and an impressive  degree of satirical punch into this entertaining and alarmingly topical drama.

Director and producer Louise Townsend has done an excellent job with what I imagine must have been a fairly squeezed budget. The play, sponsored by a raft of trades unions, features a clever set depicting the decorators work space and simple but effective costumes and props marking the often lightning changes of character.

 There is also some wonderfully subtle lighting and rousing songs, puppets and even a magic lantern show to evoke the spirit of the Edwardian era.

Jeremy Miles

September 14th, 2012

© Jeremy Miles 2022