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The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists review at the CLF Art Cafe, London – ‘imaginative, timely adaptation’

Jonathan Markwood and Neil Gore in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists at the CLF Art Cafe, London

Compressing Robert Tressell’s sprawling socialist masterpiece on to the stage in the first place is quite a task; doing so with only two performers is an impressive achievement indeed.

Tressell’s story of hardship and penury in the fictional east-coast town of Mugsborough is ably and imaginatively performed by Neil Gore and Jonathan Markwood, who divide up the populous cast (and in one case a single role) between them, and a mixture of music-hall songs and puppetry gives the entire piece a rough and ruddy-faced charm.

Markwood is earnest and credible as painter and decorator Frank Owen, drawn towards socialism by his meagre wages, while Gore takes a raft of creepier characters, consistently keeping one step ahead of caricature.

Director Louise Townsend wisely keeps the pace fast and the long lectures, one of the few weaknesses of Tressell’s book, to a minimum. Audience interaction is used sparingly but to great effect, with an Act I closer that perfectly embodies the novel’s spirit of plain-speaking and generosity.

With the heady rush of Corbyn-fever barely out of the bloodstream, it feels a particularly timely staging of a fierce and uncompromising novel, a little ragged and shaggy around the edges but also heartfelt, hopeful and humane.

Verdict
Imaginative, timely and breezily directed adaptation of Robert Tressell’s socialist epic

Production

Production
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
Venue
CLF Art Cafe
City
London
Starts
October 5, 2015
Ends
October 31, 2015
Press night
October 12, 2015
Authors
Robert Tressell (novel)
Adaptation
Stephen Lowe
Director
Louise Townsend
Design
Fine Time Fontayne
Cast includes
Jonathan Markwood, Neil Gore
Producer
Townsend Productions
Running time
2hrs