The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Theatre Review. The Lantern Theatre, Liverpool.
Cast: Neil Gore, Fine Time Fontayne.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell should be considered one of the most important books of the last 100 years, no matter what your background is. First published in 1914, it shocked then as it still has the power to do so now. The adaptations for the stage have been equally well received and especially in Liverpool where in 2010 Howard Brenton’s adaptation and starring Finbar Lynch, brought the house down.
Now The Lantern Theatre in Liverpool has showcased its own piece of writing heaven as Townsend Productions presented the play in a manner befitting the great man’s work. Unlike The production at The Everyman Theatre, this was a two hander, no mean feat for any play to take on but with the two exceptional actors of Neil Gore and Fine Time Fontayne at the helm, the show was fast, brutally honest and whilst dealing with the struggle of wealth, ownership and betrayal of the working man there was room enough for the simmering humour to escape and play on the thoughts of those attending the performance.
The tight space was made even more claustrophobic as every single piece of prop that was used by the two as they changed characters at the drop of a hat was there ready in waiting, sometimes just enough out of sight to cause an element of doubt in the audience’s mind of how they managed to get everything in. Whatever their secret, both Mr. Gore and Mr. Fontayne reacted with genuine wit to every eventuality.
Stephen Lowe’s writing really shines through in productions which allow for the audience to see every nook and cranny of the hidden space and also the disguised masks of the actors. As both men played every single part available, in some quarters and with a director not on top of their game, it may have become confusing and become cynical. The fact that Louise Townsend’s directing made the play not just enjoyable, certainly remarkable but most of all a physical and undisputed piece of theatrical brilliance.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists really should be required reading before people leave school, until that point to catch this production as it tours will be a huge start and it would be a crime to miss it.
Ian D. Hall