Ragged Trousered Philanthropists at Benderloch and Craignish

This sounds like an exotic bunch of eccentrics on tour, to be intercepted on an ETA, passing through specific places – and it is.

Townsend Productions are touring their two-handed take on Robert Tressell’s classic book, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist – described as a hilarious, fast-paced adaptation.

Robert Tressell was an Irish house painter with multiple identities, only one of which – the enduring one – he chose for himself. A Dubliner, born Robert Noonan, he was christened as Robert Croker and later took the pseudonym of Tressell for his book – a huge success published posthumously – because it conjured his main prop as a painter – a trestle.

The book is a sharply aware analysis of the relationship between the masters and the waged, based on his own experiences of poverty, exploitation, and personal vulnerability in his constant fear that he and the daughter he was bringing up himself would be sent to the workhouse if he was ill and unable to work.

The ‘philanthropists’ in question are not the moneyed bosses but the workers, whom Noonan views as going along with their own exploitation in the interests of their bosses – as remains the case.

The fact that Noonan set his book in a fictionalised town he called Mugsborough, gives a good sense of the character of humourous political satire. The title page of the original book was subtitled: ‘Being the story of twelve months in Hell, told by one of the damned, and written down by Robert Tressell.’

Townsend Productions’ stage version shares a year in the life of a group of painters and decorators as they renovate ‘The Cave’, a three-storey town house, for Mayor Sweater.

It follows their hardships and good hearted struggles for survival in Edwardian England.

The philanthropists are played by  Neil Gore and Fine Time Fontayne, two talented and experienced performers, using comedy routines and entertaining songs of the Music Hall – and promising a few surprises along the way.

This seems true to the book which may have been a political analysis of an exploitive social hierarchy but foregrounded the humanity and camaraderie of the philanthropists, making it a widely read and popular piece of writing that has stayed the course.

The show – in a tour which has been a great success – is at:

  • the Victory Hall in Benderloch on Wednesday 13th March at 7.30pm. Tickets are £10/£9 concession. Phone 01631 720498 to book.
  • and at Craignish Village Hall on Thursday 14th March at 7.30pm.
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