We saw The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists at the lovely Fugard Theatre in Cape Town on Friday 29th October 2010. This was a self indulgent production that failed to entertain or inform.
The play is based on the book of the same name written by Robert Tressell about a group of building workers in a southern English Coastal town before the First World War who object to the their poor working conditions. The story has been transported, for this production, to Cape Town in 1955 where the issues are not only poor working conditions but also race issues.
The strength of the Isango Portobello drama group is their singing which was powerful across African, traditional religious and western songs. This is their real strength. There was an impressive scene where they used six puppets, each about 4m high. The costumes were well done.
The weakness of the production was the presentation of the story. The story has a valid theme but it was presented in a simplistic and indulgent way. The audience knew where the story was going but were dragged through a lot of narrative and poor acting. The singing was entertainment; the rest was not. I am not surprised that the theatre was only 20% full.
This interesting group deserve a better play to show off their undoubted talents.