from an original work by Robert Tressell
Robert Tressell’s novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, first published in 1914 after his death in 1911, is a recognised classic of working-class literature. It is an account of the working lives of a group of housepainters and decorators in the fictional town of Mugsborough, based on the southern English coastal town of Hastings.
Howard Brenton’s stage adaptation, first performed at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool on 17 June 2010 in a co-production with Chichester Festival Theatre, lays bare the many social injustices perpetrated on these men whilst capturing their individual characters.
The plot recounts the little daily successes and the disasters of the group, living under constant fear of being laid off by employers forever looking for new corners to cut. Both workers and bosses are caught in a system spiralling out of control, with the workers always coming out the worse. The men debate the whys and wherefores of their poverty but one worker, Frank Owen, believes the cause of life-long poverty is actually due to what he calls the ‘Great Money Trick’. He attempts to convince the group that they are victims of a ruthless capitalist system, which transforms them into the ‘philanthropists’ of the title because they simply give the value of their work away to their oppressive employers.
The Everyman Theatre premiere was directed by Christopher Morahan with an ensemble cast including Dean Ashton, Will Beer, Louise, Larry Dann, Tim Frances, Finbar Lynch, Des McAleer, Thomas Morrison, Laura Rees, Paul Regan, Gyuri Sarossy and Nicolas Tennant. The production subsequently transferred to the Minerva Theatre in Chichester on 15 July 2010.