Philanthropists’ revival for political season at Peckham’s Art Café

neil as rushton in ragged trousered philanthropist
Neil Gore in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Robert Tressell’s scathing attack on employers’ relationship with their workers returns to the stage in a revival of Stephen Lowe’s adaptation of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Using songs and music of the period, movement, comedy and characterisation to create the spirit and clarity of the political message, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists shares with its audience a year in the life of a group of painters and decorators, as they renovate a three-storey town house for Mayor Sweater.

It is being staged at The CLF Art Café, Bussey Building, Peckham, as the first part of a double bill of political plays to be performed throughout October and November.

The drama traces their struggle for survival in a complacent and stagnating Edwardian England. These workers are the “philanthropists” who throw themselves into back-breaking work for poverty wages in order to generate profit for their masters.

Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Townsend Productions uses its trademark casting of two actors playing multiple roles, grand theatrical style and wit with popular and political songs arranged by folk musician John Kirkpatrick.

Stephen Lowe’s version of the story was first seen in 1978, when Joint Stock Theatre Company toured the country playing to packed houses.

The play was revived in 1983 and 1991. Stephen’s plays have been staged by directors/ producers including Alan Ayckbourn, Richard Eyre, Steven Daldry, Danny Boyle, Jonathan Church, Annie Castledine, and Thaddeus O’Sullivan.

His television work includes his BBC-2 adaptation of Stendhal’s Scarlet and Black starring staring Ewan McGregor and Rachel Weisz, and the four-part BBC2 psycho-thriller Tell-Tale Hearts starring Bill Patterson. Stephen has also written over 100 episodes of Coronation Street.

Lowe said of the new production: “After 30 years involvement with The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists since my original version with Joint Stock in 1978, I’ve seen many productions – from Alabama to Perth, Cape Town to Nottingham – and each time performers and audiences alike have felt the piece to be totally relevant and ‘of the time’.

“This new two-handed version follows that tradition and speaks out to the present economic and political reality in a clear, uncompromising but hugely entertaining way, through the energetic and brilliant performances of the two performers and storytellers.”

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ cast features Neil Gore (Song of Singapore, Chichester Festival Theatre and the West end) and Jonathan Markwood (Return to the Forbidden Planet, National Tour).

Throughout the run there will be post show discussions on the play and it’s relevance to today’s society with, among others, playwright Stephen Lowe, Megan Dobney (General Secretary of SERTUC), actors Johnny Vegas and Liz Carr, Christine Blower (NUT) and Doug Nichols (Gen Sec GFTU).

The play is co-produced in association with Harrogate Theatre and Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre.

From November 2-14 the company will be staging their latest production, United We Stand, which tells the story of the controversial Shrewsbury 24 and the imprisonment of Ricky Tomlinson and Des Warren.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists runs at The CLF Art Café, Block A, Bussey Building, Rye Lane, Peckham, from October 5-31.

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