Edwardian Politics Can Still Teach Us A Thing Or Two

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, The CLF Art Cafe ★★★★☆

By Londonist Last edited 23 months ago
Edwardian Politics Can Still Teach Us A Thing Or Two The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, The CLF Art Cafe 4

In an age of welfare cuts, zero-hours contracts, unpaid interns and low wages, it is timely to find a revival of Robert Tressell’s life-changing masterpiece the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. The novel was finished in 1910 and two years later its author died of TB and was buried in a paupers grave.

This is a story of exploitation and political awakening in the Edwardian era. It charts a year in the precarious lives of a team of painters and decorators working on a big house known as The Cave in the fictional town of Mugsborough.

Stephen Lowe’s adaptation impressively achieves this with just two actors, who seamlessly switch between 12 characters amidst the action. The show includes folk songs, puppetry and live painting. That might sound chaotic but Louise Townsend’s tight direction keeps the show entertaining as well as thought-provoking. Performers Neil Gore and Jonathan Markwood call on members of the audience to join in songs and to help when extra bodies are needed to demonstrate how capitalism works.

The show is on in an upstairs room in the Bussey Building/CLF Art Cafe, its stark décor complements the theme. You might leave the theatre wanting to join the struggle, or at least feel inspired to find out more about the Labour movement and its role in securing decent wages and a safety net, and why we should fight to keep these.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is on at The CLF Art Cafe, 133 Rye Lane, SE15 4ST, until 31 October. Tickets £12 (£10 concessions). Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

This is one of two political plays on at the Bussey Building. The other is United We Stand, about the Shrewsbury 24 — the imprisonment of striking building workers, including actor Ricky Tomlinson, in 1973.

Last Updated 15 October 2015