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A new Musical based upon Robert Tressell’s evergreen novel.

There are some works which really should have got more attention at the time and whose lack of visibility absence of availablilty needs fixing. Quoted by many, “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropoists” is a book which is as pertinent today as it was 100 years ago and In the Red, the musical based on the book is a delightful and surprising. “Wedded Bliss” and “If She Were Mine” bring softer numbers and the many rousing numbers culminate in the anthem “Don’t Come Monday”.

In the Red is a new musical by Michael Brand and Ian Chippendale, freely adapted from Robert Tressell’s evergreen Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

You can hear the songs here and buy the CD:

What the Critics said:

Musical Stages 5/12/99 Review by Matti Aijala

A new musical about brass bands and socialism? At first it seems like one of those weird concoctions that one comes across from time to time in the world of musical theatre. This new British musical by Ian Chippendale and Michael Brand has been issued on the Dress Circle label and in a way I am quite surprised by how well it really works.

Brand and Chippendale have weaved together a most original work, which happens to work a lot better than most new things I have heard lately. The most surprising thing about In The Red is the absolutely captivating orchestral sound that really sounds quite fresh to me. Nothing new about brass bands a such, but it just seems so right for this tale.

Personally I love the opening a capella sequence, where Hunter is spreading out the word of God only to be interrupted by Easton’s new theories and doctrines. Wayne is in great voice and sounds perfect for the part. His big solo number, Don’t Come Monday, later on in the first act is one of the best numbers in this score. It contains a lot of true power as it deals with the character’s inner turmoil between his job and his religion. I love this moment when we actually get to see inside his head and feelings in a kind of true inner monologue mastered by master Sondheim in his works. The lyrics are quite good as well and this song provides a high point for anyone looking for some insight into the workings of the human mind. There are too many good numbers in the score to mention here. Time’s No Longer On Your Side is one of the prettiest melodies and is powerfully sung by Stephanie Lawrence. Peter Polycarpou and his singing chorus of fellow socialists have one glorious moment with Politics! Politics!, which is the kind of number that Bock and Harnick wrote for their Pulitzer winning musical Fiorello (Politics and Poker). These are just some examples of this very interesting and welcome score.

Robert Tressell and his daughter Kathleen, circa 1896
Robert Tressell and his daughter Kathleen, circa 1896

Reading the Guardian newspaper like reading any newspaper, has become a minority pursuit. Personally, I cannot make it through a bowl of cereal without it. But, last week the bowl almost dropped into my lap as I saw reference to an aspect of Labour History that I hold dear: the Clarion Cyclists. Surely, few others knew of these proselytisers of Socialism who toured the country in late Victorian and Edwardian England.

However, this was not about history, they were still around, albeit not, as far as I am aware, distributing Socialist pamphlets to rural villages. These were modern day cyclists and they were objecting to the attempt to alter their constitution – namely, the part that said they were Socialist! Apparently, this was not inclusive enough and may have deterred potential recruits. You do not have to be a Telegraph reader to be appalled at this cynical appeal to use inclusiveness.

It reminded me of the chapter in the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists where the Socialist Cyclists arrive in Mugsborough and are met with violence. Hence it seemed a good opportunity to plug Tressell’s classic in the pages of a major newspaper. You can read my letter to the Guardian, published on 18 June, here:

“Dear Editor,

Readers of Robert Tressell’s socialist novel ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ will be aware that the 'Socialist Cyclists' are met with violence by a howling mob in Mugsborough. (Fight for socialism on two wheels, 17th June) The victim then turns to the other side to speak against socialism for money. Do present day Clarions sense a turncoat behind the attempts to alter their constitution?

Yours fraternally

Trevor Hopper”.

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