The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist.

People say Drama doesn’t sell too well. Only this week I read somewhere that someone was accusing the Theatre Severn of merely putting on cover bands and tired comedians. Yes to a lesser extent than suggested there is a grain of truth there,  as you know this reviewer has made it clear his views on cover bands before. However they bring money in so that great shows can come also. As for Drama not selling I believe there was a packed Walker Theatre tonight that might argue that point.

This full house, of all ages, were there to see the amazing, Townsend Productions interpretation of Tressell’s classic, “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist.”

It was Berthold Brecht , a dramatist of the mid twentieth century, who wanted to strip theatre bare. It was his aim to demystify theatre and give it back to the people. Unfettered by conventions they were able to get their messages across and theatre could be used as a tool or a weapon. Brecht would encourage the use of song, signs and even direct contact with the audience to make his point. That is what we had tonight with this great show.

Set in the Nineteen Naughties or the Edwardian period, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist is an exploration into the social classes. It achieves this by investigating the world of the Capitalist and the lot of the Workers who make him rich. Using the unusual setting of the painting and decorating trade the play looked at what little chance of ever moving on the lower classes had to endure. With the lack of social mobility and the lack of a welfare system the workers lived in fear of the bosses and felt disempowered to stand up for their rights. One has to remember that their rights in 1906 were non existent anyway.

The cast comprised of Neil Gore and Fine Time Fontayne, Who some may remember from Corrie. Both playing a multitude of characters, their changes from character to character were astonishing. Neil had six characters and Fine Time five and the changes were seamless. We were taken into a journey of discontent and upset. The bosses paying less and less and the workers completely disempowered to do anything about it. We see here the embryonic setting for Marx and Engels to get together and write the most antagonistic, (to the bosses) book of all time, The Communist Manifesto. Imagine if you were stuck in a job you just had to keep doing. You were being underpaid, you had no security and the only alternative was the work house. This was the setting for the play.

Isn’t that a rather arid subject? I hear some ask. No, is the short answer. With songs, music, audience participation and jokes the cast turned a fairly weighty tone into an accessible piece of Drama that certainly slammed its message home.

The job of an actor is a tough one, ironically containing many of the pitfalls of the men that they were portraying. However, to get to the top you simply have to have talent. These two had it in spades. For depth of character, for representation of text, for use of space and movement it was quite literally awesome. This is an important piece of theatre and I may venture a crucial one too. The message came through loud and clear. Workers have rights and bosses that exploit them or ignore their rights will, if undefended, push and push for every last drop of work for the cheapest price. As Marx and the play finally said “Workers of the world unite.”

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist is a unique presentation that thrills and reminds us all of the power and potential that theatre has. With all that music, all the beautiful harmonies and all that comedy; the message still came through loud and clear. As an audience we witnessed relentless work from the actors, beautiful writing from Stephen Lowe and of course superb directing from Louise Townsend. What can I do other than award my first five star review.

Owen Lewis

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Owen Lewis Owen Lewis

Owen Lewis was born fifty something years ago in the land of the black puddings. For the geographically challenged that is in Lancashire. Moving to Shropshire From 1970 Owen was brought up in Church Stretton. His first real job was in radio. After starting on BBC Radio Shropshire he became known on Marcher Sound, broadcasting throughout the North West for several years. After a university degree course in Theatre, Owen became an actor and went on to play "Pirate Bill" in The Alton Towers Hotel. He also made several television appearances. Returning to university he took his PGCE enabling him to teach. That saw him on the Essex coast as a drama teacher and latterly as a Creative Educational Liaison Officer making films and creating new teaching methods to employ on children in need of more help in their fundamental learning skills. Published playwright Owen ultimately wants a house boat in Amsterdam to focus on his work as Playwright and Poet.

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Comments

Can't agree more. Fantastic, quick-fire acting, beautiful harmonies and astonishing comedy in what is otherwise a bleak portrait of days gone by. But for me, of course, it is a vision of the future to come, a future that does not care about human beings and only money.

For my first visit to Theatre Severn I was impressed by the size of the public areas of the theatre, but it also felt intimate and friendly. I was also impressed by the voice announcing the start of the play who couldn't say 'philanthropist' and the second time he announced it he said 'the ragged trousered bloke with a social conscience'. Class. Just sheer class.

All in all this is how theatre should be.