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The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

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Polly March Polly March | 12:06 UK time, Friday, 6 January 2012

A play, which has been a classic of working class literature for nearly a century, comes to Wales next month as part of a national tour.

Stephen Lowe's version of Robert Tressell's The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists will enjoy two dates, one at the Blackwood Miners Institute and another at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre.

The new production is by Townsend Productions and is a two-hander, starring Neil Gore and Rodney Matthew.

Neil Gore and Rodney Matthew star in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Image courtesy of Townsend Productions

Neil Gore and Rodney Matthew star in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Image courtesy of Townsend Productions

The story follows a group of painters and decorators tasked with the backbreaking work of renovating a large three-storey house for the mayor of the town.

It explores the bones of socialist thinking and as the workers act as 'philanthropists' giving their work in exchange for paltry wages, the original author Tressell - the nom-de-plume of Robert Noonan - adeptly demonstrates Karl Marx's labour theory of value.

The decorators are followed through a year of their life in an Edwardian England where high unemployment is driving down wages and they are struggling to make ends meet or face destitution. They also experience intense frustration at not being able to do their jobs to a satisfactory level, because they are locked in a constant battle to keep costs down.

When the men break for breakfast or for their dinner they often talk about politics and one of them, Owen, tries to persuade the others towards an understanding of socialism by explaining that the cause of poverty is the capitalist system.

In one of the most famous passages in the play, he demonstrates the 'Great Money Trick' using slices of bread and pocket-knives to show that the system favours the bosses by lining their pockets, while the workers' poverty is maintained as the status quo.

Part of the play's timeless appeal is that the issues it explores have not loss relevance or resonance over time. Townsend Productions felt the current political climate and 2011 being the centenary anniversary of Tressell's death meant it was time to take the play on tour.

Lowe's version of the story was first seen in 1978, when Joint Stock Theatre Company toured the country playing to booked-out theatres. It was revived at the Half Moon Theatre in London in 1983 and again for a touring production by the Birmingham Rep in 1991.

The play has had the backing of the unions RMT, Unite, TUC, GMB, PCS, Wales TUC, NUT, Accord, UCATT NASWT and the FBU.

It will be staged at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre on Tuesday 7 February at 7.30pm.

Tickets are priced at £9 (£8 Concs) CC £8.50 (£7.50) and can be purchased at the Box Office at on 01970 62 32 32 or online at www.aber.ac.uk/artscentre.

The production travels to Blackwood Miners institute on 8 February.

Box Office: 01495 224425. Website; www.blackwoodminersinstitute.co.uk. Tickets are priced at £10.00/£8.00.

For more info on the touring production visit www.townsendproductions.org.uk.


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