21st Century Philanthropists

Dingle Community Theatre
The Casa, Hope Street
1st February 2011

Reviewed by Laura Naylor

It's a depressing thought that not much has changed with regards to (un)employment since Robert Tressell wrote his book Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, as Dingle Community Theatre revealed at The Casa on 1st February.

A week of commemorative drama events celebrating the author was introduced by Vauxy Theatre, providing us with a glimpse into the final years of his life and a brief look at the theme of the novel. Five actors took to the stage portraying the characters of the author, his daughter and other figures in his life at the time. These were mixed with interpretations of the book with one scene showing the workers apparently enjoying a festive dinner with their employers, but upsetting the mood were a group of socialists demanding why they should be grateful when their employers "eat like this every day of the year". They also showed how workers, in desperation, would take any work they could despite being paid a paltry sum for their efforts.

Dingle Community Theatre brought these themes into a modern context with 21st Century Philanthropists. It began with the Liverbirds escaping their usual dwelling overlooking the Mersey and flying off to see what really happens in the city. They watch as a man is made redundant and has to go to (what is laughably known as) the Job Centre for help. Despite his skills as an electrician, he is forced to volunteer at a fast food restaurant and we witness man become machine existing only to serve a purpose. Finally, he ends up in the army as a bomb disposal technician. This has dire consequences and we see the effect this has on his family.

Parallel to this are scenes of what we imagine to go on behind the closed doors of those who sit at the top; two businessmen enjoy a drink laughing as people's livelihoods are exchanged for slave labour across the globe, all for the sake of a profit and an extra brandy.

At the end of the performance we see another worker needlessly laid off and so the vicious cycle begins again. Light relief this most certainly was not; instead a disturbing commentary on what we know goes on within businesses to support a few people's greed.

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