"A strong and robust show that brings the characters, humour and inspirational ideas of this great book to life. It is needed now more than ever. You'll leave the theatre and join the struggle!" Ken Loach, Film Director.
"...tremendous...delivered with brio, humour and some great songs."
Libby Purves, The Times.
"10/10 Sensational...the achievement of this production is nothing short of breathtaking." Liverpool Echo.
"For depth of character, of representation of of text, for use of space and movement it is quite literally awesome." LoveShrewsbury.com
Eve Nicol's two-minute review blog.
"It is 100 years since his death and Robert Tressell’s co-operative socialist tract is still scarily relevant and lyrically resonant for the working man and woman. As a signwriter and house painter himself, Tressell was all too well aware of the plight of rising unemployment in times of economic depression. This two-hander directed by Louise Townsend interweaves the original text and dialogue from Stephen Lowe’s 1978 play. Hats, pipes and exaggerated body language do not have to take place of deeper characterisation thanks to the skills of the storytellers, Fine Time Fontayne and Neil Gore. From works foreman Hunter (the profit-hungry cost-cutter), to the artistry of Frank Owen (the perfectionist and visionary), the world of the working class is examined under a microscope of extreme contrasts, with Gore’s site foreman Bob Crass and his ignorant bliss the most stereotypically accurate. Humorous set pieces varied in success but the money trick, with audience participation, was the most memorable. Older technology was tested with the chimney sweep and the white-washer projection, while the Toffs’ Tea Party was more mockingly The Muppet Show than satirically biting Avenue Q. Ultimately, the two actors are what makes this work (especially in the heat, confinement and discomfort of the Circle Studio). A relaxed, thought-provoking production which is made all the more likeable thanks to its imperfections." Marianne Gunn, heraldscotland
"Iconic Pro Workers Play revitalised" [...] Neil Gore & Fine Time Fontayne, a ripe pair of seasoned entertainers, have hit on a gem of period humorous theatre with its nonetheless serious message. They've revived Stephen Lowe's play of the book, just at a time perfectly relevant for the trying situations currently foisted onto the guiltless working class by the economic crises created by avaricious American bankers (Seeking profit even out of the hungry mouths of sub-prime borrowers, too poor to repay). The self-same situation that was prevalent when Tressell first wrote his book - but perhaps 'twas ever thus [...] Versatility is their forte and between them, Fontayne & Gore put on two hours, first-class irreverent entertainment. Louise Townsend's lively production leaves the audience in fine fettle and better informed about the foolish generosity of employees. By constantly sacrificing themselves by accepting lower wages than they are worth, the men 'philanthropically' provide their bosses with greater profits than they have the right to extort. [...] Touring around Britain at various dates, this production is ideal to make a different sort of treat for works social club events. The show can come to your workplace or to a reachable venue. You've nothing to lose but small change and a world of pleasure to gain." Arthur Duncan - remotegoat.co.uk
"Adapted by Stephen Lowe from Robert Tressell’s original, weighty novel and played by a cast of just two, this production overcame first night glitches with errant lighting to charm a full house. Much of the novel’s now outdated rhetoric is removed, but the reasons for social justice and honest working practices are retained and presented with theatrical skill and good humour. The decorators working for a pittance in the fictional town of Mugsborough and the town worthies who exploit them for profit are brought to life in a dazzling array of characters by just two actors, Fine Time Fontayne and Neil Gore. A change of hat here, a coat there - a simple statement of a character’s name keeps confusion at bay. Fontayne is memorable as Old Joe, who is sacked on a whim, and particularly so as Frank Owen, patiently and without rancour demonstrating to members of the audience the famous ‘money scene’ showing how bosses enrich themselves at the expense of their workers. Gore’s fearsome portrayal of the sleazy foreman, Hunter, leaves no doubt that workers are often their own worst enemies, but this is just one of the characters he brings to life. Music, song, puppets and an Edwardian magic lantern show keep things moving when the play is in danger of preaching, and director Louise Townsend should be pleased with a production which entertains rather than alienates anyone in the audience who does not share its socialist ethos. Catch it on tour from the end of July."
Anne Hopper, The Stage Reviews
"Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists tells the story of the ups and downs of a group of painters and decorators [...] one of the most enjoyable elements in this production is that the audience sees just how hard its two performers – Neil Gore and Fine Time Fontayne – work to create the evening’s enjoyment. They continually switch between characters, with and without costume changes, rejig the set, and operate puppets. They even find room for a slide show and (with audience participation) explain, in the manner of a magic trick, how capitalism works using three coins and some slices of bread. The performers have an easy rapport with the audience, and a nice line in off-the-cuff workplace banter themselves. Tressell’s story could easily lose out with so much fun going on. But Neil Gore’s musical direction builds a three-dimensional emotional world through its inventive use of a wide range of period songs. From temperance hymns to knees-up music-hall numbers, from sentimental tear-jerkers (‘Oh Where Is My Boy Tonight?’) to political knockabout (‘Two Lovely Black Eyes’), the audience is invited to sing along, and thus connect more deeply with the world the characters inhabit. There are real moments of pathos here – not least in the vision of the exploitative boss himself crumbling under the pressure of obsessively counting his gains and losses. Director Louise Townsend marshals all these elements into a finely-paced production which packs a plenty of food for thought into an entertaining and accessible evening." Stephen Longstaffe, Whats on stage
‘Stephen Lowe has scripted a version of Robert Tressell’s Socialist classic that is a model of adaptation, dramatic emphasis and sheer theatrical magic’ Michael Coveney, Financial Times
‘It has sadness and meaning, but it is also one of the funniest plays ever penned – and has a universal appeal whether you are a supporter of the Left or a connoisseur of wonderful character acting’ Philip Cram, The Cumbrian Examiner
‘Fine Time Fontayne has superb comic timing’ Charlotte Keatley, Financial Times
‘Crass is commandingly played by Neil Gore' East Anglican Times
Edinburgh Festival 2012 Reviews
10/10 'SENSATIONAL' LIVERPOOL ECHO
**** 'Sets bells ringing...lightning changes...friendly...has a strength of it's own. Well worth catching.' THE TIMES (Libby Purves)
**** 'Excellent....warm...humorous and moving, a show with it's heart in the right place' THREE WEEKS
**** 'A well produced brilliantly acted theatre of substance.' FRINGE REVIEW
**** 'How to turn some 600 pages of print into a fast paced piece of theatre? Answer; take two highly tallented actors and stand well back.' EDINBURGH GUIDE
**** 'There is some genuine poignancy, some moments of roistering cheerfulness.... and the demonstration of the principles of capitalism ....is exceptionally cleverly done.' INFORMED EDINBURGH
**** 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Assembly George Square. Charismatic duo depict working class trials with humour and skill. Superb.' FRINGE BISCUIT
****'Masterpiece' BROADWAY BABY
***** '….a riotous joy of a show' FEST MAGAZINE
"The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is the classic novel of English working-class life, based on Robert Tressell's experience as a painter and decorator in Edwardian Hastings.Now legendary, and deemed by some to have been responsible for Labour's 1945 election victory as soldiers and sailors eagerly absorbed its socialist message, the novel has seen a number of adaptations for the stage.
This particular version directed by Louise Townsend transforms a play with eight main characters into a two-man show and triumphantly overcomes that potential obstacle via some masterful characterisation.
Both Rodney Matthew and Neil Gore are superb comic actors and switch seamlessly between the parts and even share one role - the miserly foreman, Hunter - depending on who he is talking to at the time. There's more than a little Monty Python in the delivery, with Matthew sounding uncannily like Eric Idle on occasion, and the voices and facial expressions are often hilarious.
But none of this detracts either from the gravity of the dire situation of the men nor from the urgency of the political message.The men working for the painting and decorating firm Rushton and Co are renovating the house of Mayor Sweater. They are the philanthropists of the title, selflessly slogging their guts out for the benefit of their masters. The protagonist Frank Owen tries, largely in vain, to convince his fellow workmates that the capitalist system is the source of all their woes and needs to be done away with.
What this adaptation brings to the fore is the ongoing tactical debate between Owen and Harlow, one of the few who sympathises with Owen's viewpoint, but who is much more practically minded about how to address the problem.
Owen's class-struggle politics sees Harlow's approach as far too compromising - "Your wish for peace is choking us all" he tells him - and the differences come to a head in the final scene. Harlow becomes involved in the newly formed Labour Party, throws his weight behind its election campaign and attempts to persuade Owen to do the same. Owen is sceptical, arguing that once you start to play "their" parliamentary game, you've lost as the compromises involved will spell the death of the movement.
Watching this discussion 100 years later it is hard to avoid the conclusion that ultimately Owen was right.There's much else relevant to today's context. Cameron's "all in it together" bullshit finds its pre-echo in Mayor Sweater's ridiculous speech about how "the masters need the men, and the men need the masters." Owen's performance of "The Great Money Trick" - the simplest demonstration of capitalist crisis yet performed - is more timely now than ever. Witty, fast-paced and hard-hitting, this is exactly how agit-prop should be done."Dan Glazebrook, MORNINGSTAR ONLINE
INTERNATIONAL SOCIALIST GROUP MAGAZINE
"Robert Tressell’s classic novel of Socialism in times of poverty and exploitation in Edwardian England was first adapted for the stage by writer Stephen Lowe back in the late 1970s. The enduring appeal of the story of a band of painters and labourers eking out a living – or not – under the oppressive rule of the greedy bosses Messers Sweater, Grinder and Hunter, meant that the 5-night run by Townsend Productions (and again penned by Lowe) at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre was sold out. This adaptation featured just two actors playing out around 12 characters between them, as well as narrating the story and interspersing the dialogue with song on guitar, ukelele and accordian. I’ve never experienced such masterful transformation from one character to the next, in some cases just by swapping bowler hat (as the vindictive boss Hunter) for cloth cap (the earnest Socialist worker Harlow). The small Circle Studio theatre had the audience encircling a stage set-up of ladders, planks and the dynamic performers. The intimacy served to confirm the fantastic writing and choreography and the actors’ powerful performances, so genuine and heartfelt when making us laugh and bringing us into their world. Audience participation even played a part when protagonist Frank Owen proves his anti-Capitalist theories with ‘The Great Money Trick’. This was an absorbing piece of theatre and confirms that there are really great writers out there who can bring a true classic to life on the stage. It has me looking out my copy of the book and looking forward to delving back into that world so emotively described by Tressell." Katherine Stewart, International Socialist Group - Scotland
"As part of the first night audience at Hertford Theatre I
thoroughly enjoyed this funny, musical and moving adaptation of the Ragged
Trousered Philanthropists. Fine Time Fontayne and Neil Gore were wonderful,
moving seamlessly between the characters (and hats) amidst a clever set which
conjured up workplace and annual country outing. A recalcitrant magic lantern
merely helped, as the audience hugely enjoyed the ad libbing it induced. The
puppet show portraying the ‘better’ of members of society was fun as was the
opportunity to revisit old songs that I didn't think I knew (there must be a
publicly accessible folk memory which holds 'When Father Papered the Parlour'
and the like).
However amidst the fun was sadness and a real sense of just how hard the characters' lives were and how little power they had against the demands of their employers and the wider economic situation. One could see a frisson of recognition run through the audience as they discussed what to do (or not) to stop the juggernaut of lower wages and rising costs. I first read the book as a teenager in the late 1970s and thought it described a time with about as much future relevance to everyday life as the gold standard. Funnily enough it didn't feel like that on Thursday, in fact it seemed like new minted contemporary drama in a period setting." Catherine Davis (Former Arts Council Officer for Hertfordshire County Council)
"I would be grateful if you pass on my support for the production of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists coming to the Edinburgh Fringe. I attended the production in West Lothian where it received a standing ovation. The production is inspiring and thought provoking in these difficult financial times. I have been a Councillor for a number of years and as Lord Provost from 2003 until 2007 I chaired the Edinburgh International Festival Board. I am sure if this production was to perform on the Edinburgh Fringe it would be a sell out and very successful." Lesley Hinds, Councillor for Inverleith, Edinburgh
As part of my role in West Lothian I was closely involved in recently organising 2 showings of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, produced and performed by Townsend Productions and staged at Loganlea Miners Welfare and Charitable Society in West Lothian.
So impressed were we as well as the audiences at both sell-our shows, we have felt moved to provide a reference for Townsend Productions in their search for funding and in seeking partners for their prospective tour of Scotland next year; including hopefully a run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Prior to the showings we had high hopes that the show would be a success and be well-received. However, we did not appreciate just how much of a resounding success it would be. The production and performances were of a top-class nature and both shows received standing ovations.
There are, we believe two reasons why the show was enjoyed so much. Firstly, it was apparent to all that they were witnessing two actors at the top of their craft. Moreover, that Townsend Productions had successfully transferred this complex and seminal book into an excellent stage production. This required, and obviously got, skilful direction and production.
The ability of the actors was demonstrated by 2 actors both playing 5 characters each, moving seamlessly from one to another. The skill of the actors and the direction was shown by how the audience quickly understood which characters were being played at any given moment. Moreover, as someone who has read the book it was clear that Townsend productions remained true to the book and its central messages.
From a social and political point of view we believe that the book and the current stage showing of the book by Townsend Productions arrive at an opportune time. Indeed what provides strength to any bid made by Townsend productions is the fact that the messages from the book are as relevant today as they were when the book was written over 100 years ago.
The current economic crisis, inequality, exploitation in the work place and on-going problematic industrial relations, which characterise the book, continue today. This reality makes the showing and touring of this show completely relevant in that it highlights how little things have changed in areas of central importance to the people of this country; especially, for working people across many occupations, including, in the building trade.
In short, we believe that Townsend Productions have created a stage show of the book which theatrically makes for a wonderful night out. And, in addition, they have created a work which is contemporaneously relevant and important.
Tommy Kane, Parliamentary Officer