The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

From Rugs to Riches

Rating ****

12.00-13.30, Assembly George Square

On walking in to the theatre to see The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, I was handed a programme. An ordinary occurrence, you might say, but this programme is almost entirely covered on five sides by small print text. I was apprehensive about how much of this information I needed to absorb in order to enjoy the performance and was worried that the audience around me appeared to be better informed than myself.

The show revolves around the plight of the working class in the fictional town of Mugsborough at the turn of the twentieth century. It is a piece that presents sharply delineated characters and belief systems, but will resonate with many at a time of economic difficulties and austerity.

The storyline is somewhat complex and the fact that there are only two actors playing a grand total of twelve characters was initially confusing. This is not to diminish the mastery of Neil Gore and Fine Time Fontayne who delivered nuanced performances, carefully individualised their various characters using hats to make these changes more visually apparent. The use of hats was incredibly well executed and allowed characters to retain a presence in the scene even if they were not part of the featured dialogue. In addition, the actors’ impeccable use of accents and physicality was a successful way of highlighting the differences.

The set was truly a masterpiece. Initially appearing to be a complete hodge-podge comprised of various dust cloths, ladders, and boxes, it was transformed scene by scene into to a public house, a beautifully decorated house and, at one point, even a puppet theatre. Nothing on stage was superfluous and everything was used in every possible way, inside out, upside down, a testament to the truly creative direction of Fine Time Fontayne.

The political nature of the show was expertly demonstrated through audience interaction as in the scene where two people were chosen out of the audience to take part in a display of the hardships of capitalism. This was both effective and entertaining, and both audience members were richly rewarded with a copy of the book (on which the play is based) as compensation – a much more hearty reward than any of the philanthropists themselves received.

Despite the initial confusion of the story line, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is certainly a Fringe success. Director Louise Townsend explains in the programme that this production is an amalgamation of Robert Tressell’s descriptions from the novel, Stephen Lowe’s play and edits from Neil Gore to make it appropriate for only two actors; a task which has proved fruitful and enjoyable throughout.

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