The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Written by Robert Tressell (novel), Adapted by Tom McLennan, Directed by Richie Grice
Homefront Productions
Gladstone Theatre, Port Sunlight (10th-12th November 2005)

Reviewed by Julian Bond

Shorefields Drama group have revived their production of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by the socialist writer Robert Tressell, who ended his days in Liverpool. It tells the story of a workgang of painters and decorators at the turn of the last century, who undergo the normative injustices inherent within the capitalist system.

Following Tom McLennan’s imaginative adaptation and mounted easily by Ritchie Grice’s direction, the performance moved along at pace. It was very much ensemble acting, with acute contributions coming in from all angles - from the austere bourgeois Didlum (Matthew Carlin) to the intentionally comic book approach of Donna Price as gangmaster Mr Hunter, through to the histrionics of Gerard Howkins’ religious 'nut' Slyme, and the knowingly stereotyped performance of Nell McNeill as the tavern’s buxom wench. Throughout all this, Craig McGrath maintained the thread as the writer Robert Tressell - revealed here in biographical details from his life.

If one can talk of a performance stealing the show in an ensemble ‘no star’ cast, it would be Richard Helm’s deep voiced Lancastrian-accented Sweater - leader and chief crook of the bourgeois ‘rotten borough’ council of Mugsborough. Helm played the character to the hilt a la Richard III.

It is not churlish to also add that the running time of two hours or so could have been trimmed by a good twenty minutes. At times not enough was happening on stage, while at others too much was happening in too complicated a fashion. Nevertheless, this was a solid and sound production, which was well received by a knowledgeable audience.

In these times of mental inertia - with us, the public evermore led to a thoughtless diet of gameshows and titillation - it is all the more important that Shorefields Drama Group (soon to be renamed Dingle Community Theatre) are bringing to the stage this commitment to the real lives of the working classes.

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