Theatre & Events: Sweating painters struggle for survival in an Edwardian England of stagnation

From L-R Neil Gore and Richard Stone in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
From L-R Neil Gore and Richard Stone in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
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Director Louise Townsend said that her production of the socialist classic book The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists returning to Sheffield next week has received some strong reactions in unlikely places.

She said: “We went to Richmond in Yorkshire. After the show people were crying. They didn’t realise anyone else thought like them in the area, because it’s so Conservative. It’s beem important for people to be able to talk to each other and come together.”

The two-handed show features Sheffield actor Richard Stone and Neil Gore, who play 12 characters between them. It is based on Robert Tressell’s much-loved book, which traces a year in the life of a group of painters and decorators renovating a house for Mayor Sweater. It traces their struggle for survival in a complacent and stagnating Edwardian England. The workers are the “philanthropists” who do back-breaking work for poverty wages in order to generate profit for their masters.

Louise said: “We produced it in an entertaining and accessible way, using lots of theatrical tricks so that the characters are believable. We use live music, songs and puppetry to bring the story to life.

“The great money trick has gone down really well with members of the audience. That works a treat, I’m really quite proud of that.

“The way we’ve done the story is quite entertaining. It is a good story, even if you don’t agree with the political side of it. It’s not just pushing something down your throat, which I don’t agree with.

“It’s a fantastic story and they’ve got some amazing characters in it, the painters and decorators.” Louise says that the story strikes a chord with audiences. “When we started touring it two years ago we had a banking crisis. It was really relevant and it keeps getting more so. It’s about social justice.

“If you look at the bedroom tax, that’s just disgusting. It’s a terrible thing, especially when you’ve got people who are making the decisions who are living in 12-bedroom mansions.

“It shows not much has really changed and how history is really going back on itself.’’

Tickets for The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists next Monday (April 29) and Tuesday are priced at £10. Box Office: 0114 255 1776 or go to www.lanterntheatre.org.uk