Arthur Duncan - 7th October 2011
Perhaps Tressell's story was the first novel to depart from bourgois representations of "real life" as offered to middle-class readers in the Edwardian belle epoch of a hundred years ago. It certainly complimented the plays of G. B. Shaw that so delighted the free-thinking intelligentsia of that era by humorously 'cocking snooks' at the establishment and self-styled 'superior persons.'
Neil Gore & Fine Time Fontayne, a ripe pair of seasoned entertainers, have hit on a gem of period humorous theatre with its nonetheless serious message. They've revived Stephen Lowe's play of the book, just at a time perfectly relevant for the trying situations currently foisted onto the guiltless working class by the economic crises created by avaricious American bankers (Seeking profit even out of the hungry mouths of sub-prime borrowers, too poor to repay). The self-same situation that was prevalent when Tressell first wrote his book - but perhaps 'twas ever thus.
Gore is also a fine singer with an exquisite tenor voice and in addition to acting several roles in this production, has added songs, solos & duets, both witty & moving, to enrich the humour of the narrative. Fontayne in addition to acting a remarkable range of characters, also designed a busy set, using various levels & colours to suggest a grand house that he & Gore, representing a full complement of house decorators, are supposedly re-furbishing. (Tressell's book is about construction workers building a house). The two actors fill all the roles with little damage to the text & add in some narration from Tressell's own prose to excellent effect, linking episodes that otherwise would be difficult for two actors to convey coherently.
Versatility is their forte and between them, Fontayne & Gore put on two hours, first-class irreverent entertainment. Louise Townsend's lively production leaves the audience in fine fettle and better informed about the foolish generosity of employees. By constantly sacrificing themselves by accepting lower wages than they are worth, the men 'philanthropically' provide their bosses with greater profits than they have the right to extort.
Not that the bosses were all tight-fisted money grubbers, oh, noooh! - In the play, the workers are allowed a half day 'Beano' - for which they've each contributed a weekly sixpence (2.5 pence). Tressell's vision is of the 'nasty bosses & foreman' getting merry & matey with the men they exploit and bully all year, and the men's sycophantic responses. Thus Frank the artisan is provoked to make an impassioned plea imploring his comrades to wake up to reality. He urges his 'butties', his 'marrers', to join the union & assert their right to a living wage & humane respect. The speech truly touches the submissive conscience & stirs the sinews of emasculated manhood.
Touring around Britain at various dates, this production is ideal to make a different sort of treat for works social club events. The show can come to your workplace or to a reachable venue. You've nothing to lose but small change and a world of pleasure to gain.