Neil Gore adapts Stephen Lowe’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists into a stripped two-handed play that keeps both Gore and fellow performer Fine Time Fontayne running around the Assembly George Square 2 theatre with much huffing and puffing. Whilst the production offers much to be admired within and Louise Townsend directs her performers as best she can, the production suffers from exhaustion. Gore’s adaption, whilst keeping in the spirit of Lowe’s original, is in desperate need of more performers to bring a sense of calmness and narrative to play. We’ve seen it countless times before – stripping back productions to save money – but The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, with all its tomfoolery, needs a large cast to cope with the equally demanding set of characters.
Set within Rushton and Co’s painters and decorators business, the play is set against the poverty line as employees work for pittance just to keep the wolf from the door. There are numerous characters who pop up and each offer a different view, from the socialist, to the realist, to the money-grabbing owner, with their tale of work and fight for higher pay playing out in 90 minutes. It’s a shame that, with only two performers, this production seems to kick its feet in getting to the heart of the production. Townsend’s direction sees the performers working hard, with songs, a puppet show and costume changes aplenty. With so many characters, the drive and momentum of the piece needs to be sustained, and whilst both Fontayne and Gore are capable performers The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists lacks punch.
This would otherwise be a timely piece considering our country’s recession and the fight for better pay and respect, but there is a message to be heard that is not realised. It’s not all at a loss – Fontayne and Gore’s multi-roling characters offer plenty of laughs and amusement, and there is some very fine singing from Gore. Fontayne’s design works well to transform the space from workshop to private house and into a puppetry show. There’s some tongue-in-cheek and slight straying from the lines that invites the audience into the piece and even sees some audience participation. For all of this, I only wish that the fourth wall was kept up and the production driven on. The potential is within, but sadly not realised.
** – 2/5 Stars
The Rugged Trousered Philanthropists is playing at Assembly George Square 2 as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 27 August. For more information and tickets, see the website.