The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Review – Seven Arts
By Katie Leon, October 2018
This performance is a one-man show based on the 1914 book by Robert Tressell and adapted and performed by Neil Gore. Having not read the book, the story was new to me and I wondered how well I would be able to follow it with all the characters being played by one actor. I have to say, I had no trouble at all. Neil Gore morphed in to each character through use of accent, body language and props. He literally changed character at the drop of a hat, using different hats to represent different characters.
The story focuses on painters and decorators who are struggling to maintain their finances through poverty and the overhanging threat of unemployment. They are renovating a large house for the local mayor. Although the play touches on real issues, exploring the themes of socialism and capitalism, it manages to highlight these with humour and wit.
The show told its story in an innovative way, using a mixture of a projector slides, props, song, narration and dialogue. The nature of the retro projector and the actor-operated stage lighting meant that some mistakes were made, such as incorrect lighting and upside-down slides. At one point, I think we were meant to be distracted by the screen but it was clear to see Gore crawling across the floor in preparation for the next scene. I’m not sure if these were intentional or not but they added to the innocent charm of the production.
There were some neat and clever ways of telling the story, such as Gore pedalling away on a stationary bike while we watch an animation on the projector screen of the character pedalling towards the Mayor’s house.
Most of the audience were of an older generation to my guest and I and they seemed to know the words to the songs, whereas we didn’t. This didn’t stop us picking up the lyrics though and we still had many other opportunities for audience participation.
The best example of this, in my opinion, is when audience members are asked on stage to participate in ‘The Money Trick’. Despite the book being published over 100 years ago, this trick is still very relevant today. Although I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, I will say it puts the difficulties of our economy in very simplistic terms.
I left the theatre feeling empowered and thirsty to fight the power and change the future!
images: Louise Townsend