A group of poorly-paid decorators argue politics and how their lives might be improved whilst being reluctant to challenge the exploitative system. Director Tom McClennan’s adaptation of Robert Tressell’s beloved book is efficient rather than involving.
This is because he seems uncertain whether to deliver a straightforward adaptation or to analyse the original from a contemporary viewpoint. Descriptions taken from the book are spoken beautifully and with passion by the cast. The point is muted, however, by the appearance of a David Cameron look-alike and references to a coalition government and ‘Investors in People’ that get a laugh but undermine the hope of change promoted by Tressell.
A strong cast of six enact over a dozen characters. Vocally they are excellent but are unconvincing in movements intended to convey the aches and pains caused by heavy physical work and encroaching age. Extracts taken from the book are used as moving narrative. However, when these are turned into dialogue the result is unconvincing; it is hard to believe that characters would engage in such in-depth and long-winded political argument after a hard day.
The overall effect of this production of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is less a call-to-arms and more an interesting debate.