Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists @ Hackney Empire

Saw this musical some time ago and it's quite interesting - interesting in the sense that it's quite different from the usual musicals, as the actors come out from all directions and sometimes they act 'off-stage' as well. The performance is based on Robert Tressell's novel of the same title, depicting a group of painters who are allegedly so blind about the inequality thrust upon them that they think it is alright for them to receive un-liveable wages (think London minimum wage?), therefore reinforcing the status quo, and that's why they're branded 'philanthropists' satirically by the author. I haven't read the book myself but I read that it's actually set in an English town, so I suppose it's quite heavily adapted in the Isango Ensemble performance, as the setting's changed to South Africa and the group of painters being exploited are all black. That adds a layer of colonialism to the original story, and I think that's what makes the performance a bit problematic. The focus becomes heavily racial, especially in the slides showing pictures of black 'philanthropists' and their white employers. I don't know what to make of this adaptation, as it's surely very different from the original story. I think it'd be much better to read the book first and compare it with Isango Ensemble's adaptation, that would make a very interesting contrast!

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