Thursday, 16 January 2020

REVIEW: Rags The Musical at Park Theatre

Set in the Spring of 1910, Rags is often described as the ‘sequel’ to Fiddler on the Roof. Written in the 1980s by Joseph Stein, and recently revised by David Thompson, Rags tells the tale of Rebecca Hershkowitz (Carolyn Maitland), her son David and new friend Bella (Martha Kirby), arriving in New York City from Eastern Europe by boat. Rebecca is taken in by a kind family and manages to sustain herself in a world of poverty and discrimination. As first-generation immigrants, they must fight to secure a steady life amongst anti-Semitic discrimination. Directed by Bronagh Lagan, the musical is set to a score by Charles Strouse and Stephen Schwartz. Despite the dark themes of Rags, overall it is uplifting, incredibly funny and heart-warming too. After a successful run at The Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester, Rags is taking over Park200 for four weeks. 

The show is compelling from start to finish and has an exceptionally strong cast. From ensemble to lead, the talent on stage is truly brilliant. Actress Carolyn Maitland deserves credit for her extraordinary performance as Rebecca, who seemingly lacks empathy at times, but shows immense motherly selfishness to create a better life for her son. The friendships and romantic relationships in the musical are refreshing and surprisingly not too cliché. Strouse and Schwartz’s music is stunning; how they have combined Eastern European sounds with American Ragtime, Jazz and Street music into one score is incomparable. The riffs are catchy, although borderline repetitive. They have brought in violinists, an accordion and clarinet player to be the ‘traditional’ Klezner band onstage, this livened up the scenes and incorporated the ensemble into the action nicely. 

Gregor Donnelly’s set and costume design spared no details. Suitcases piled on the stage and up the walls, represent the constant moving and unsettled lifestyle as an immigrant. The fading American flag on the floorboards is a constant reminder of the ‘Yankees’ holding onto the American dream, inspiring their hatred against the immigrants. Being seated in the circle, the hats often covered the actors’ faces so I was unable to see their expressions, mostly in the second act.

It is so saddening to see the same rejection towards Jewish culture and
xenophobia almost 100 years after this historical tale is told, which is why we must keep these stories alive so they are not repeated. The plot of Rags is not complex and not much happens; it focuses on the plans and dreams of their futures rather than the lingering dregs of the characters’ pasts. I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys West End musicals that are dynamic and have an interesting story to tell.

Review by Hannah Storey

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Circle B12 | Price of Ticket: £22.50
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