THE RAGGED-TROUSERED PHILANTHROPISTS at Greenwich Theatre
Updated: Feb 28
There’s a key moment in writer-performer Neil Gore’s masterful adaptation of the Edwardian socialist polemic The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists when a revoltingly smug mayor harangues the poverty-stricken workers of the title in the voice of Boris Johnson. The imitation gets a big laugh from the audience. But it’s also a shocking reminder that more than a century on, so little has changed.
This brilliant version of Robert Tressell’s fury-driven novel about lions led by donkeys in the house-painting trade of Edwardian England was a sell-out at Greenwich Theatre – and even a dyed-in-the-wool Tory would have to concede the rapture of its reception was thoroughly deserved.
The cast of characters - corrupt managers, indifferent officials and workers trapped in despair by slave wages and a sort of terrible pride in their own ignorance – could be grotesque clichés in the wrong hands. But Gore’s great gift is to make them believable so that we are able to share his rage at the appalling way in which the working class are at the mercy of inhuman capital.
In fact, by the end of this remarkable one-man show I think the entire audience was ready to light fiery brands and march on Parliament.
Gore has been touring the story since the 1980s yet there is no hint of staleness in director Louise Townsend’s production. This is partly because Gore himself is such a consummate performer. But it’s also because he passionately believes in his subject matter and has the enviable ability to communicate his anger and his sense of injustice without ever sounding hectoring or preachy.
It’s a dazzling tour de force. It’s also a really important piece of theatre-making that deserves the widest possible exposure.