Tag Archives: Joe Bunker

Rags

Rags

★★★

Park Theatre

Rags

Rags

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 14th January 2020

★★★

 

“Maitland’s vocal control in particular is quite staggering, bringing a coiled strength to the small auditorium.”

 

Often described as the sequel to ‘Fiddler On the Roof’, ‘Rags’, originally written by Joseph Stein (who did also write ‘Fiddler’) enjoyed only four days on Broadway in its 1987 debut. Regardless, it was nominated for five Tony awards that year. But, more baffling still, it has never been brought back to the stage, that is, until now.

Revised by David Thompson and directed by Bronagh Lagan, ‘Rags’ tells the story of Jewish immigrants making their way to America at the turn of the twentieth century. Among the boatloads of hopefuls is Rebecca (Carolyn Maitland), with her son David (as played by Jude Muir for this performance), who, without any family or a nickel to her name, is determined to succeed in this new promised land.

As with most sequels, ‘Rags’ has loosely the same narrative arc as its predecessor: A community of traditional Jews fights off the outside world on multiple fronts, be it via assimilation, persecution or modernisation. Certain familiar characters re-appear as well. Ben (Oisin Nolan-Power) for example, a nice but nerdy tailor seeks the affections of Bella (Martha Kirby) whose father, Avram (Dave Willetts) disapproves of the union. I mean, why not just call them Motel and Tzeitel and have done with it.

But ‘Rags’ does depart from ‘Fiddler’ in its sheer volume of historical content, including everything from the 1909 Shirtwaist strikes and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire to the emergence of feminism, the rising popularity of Yiddish theatre and song writing, and culture clashes, not only between different ethnicities and religions, but also first and second-wave immigrants. In order to include all of this, every character symbolises a school of thought, be it capitalism or communism, traditionalism or modernisation. And this leaves little room for any of the characters to have any, well, character. The older generation – aunt, uncle and father – bring a little Yiddish flavour from the old country, but aside from that everyone is a bit bland.

The soundtrack (Charles Strouse/Stephen Schwartz) flits between a klezmer-ragtime fusion, and modern musical numbers. The former is accompanied by a swaggering Klezmer band wondering the stage, playing various bit-parts as they go. The small ensemble brings a tonne of humour and spirit to the production. Clarinettist Natasha Karp is a particular joy to watch, her constant facial expressions a kind of running commentary on the story’s goings-on.

The more modern numbers, however, are generally forgettable and feel mismatched with the themes of the plot.

The set (Gregor Donnelly), consisting of a wall of suitcases, and sparse furniture, provides an atmosphere of transition; of both hope and hardship. Whilst Rebecca, Bella and David have just arrived, the small apartment has been the home of multiple immigrant families before this one, and will no doubt go on to house many more after, and the set succeeds in keeping this feeling of flux throughout.

The cast themselves are gloriously talented, doing their best to inject colour and excitement to a story that drags on at least a half hour too long. Maitland’s vocal control in particular is quite staggering, bringing a coiled strength to the small auditorium.

But whilst ‘Rags’ was not intended as a direct sequel for ‘Fiddler’, it’s hard not to consider it as such and, as is often the case with sequels, it doesn’t stand up to comparison. Yes, there are a couple of catchy numbers, a couple of funny scenes, and a couple of moments of heartfelt reflection. But not enough on any count, and unfortunately this revival is less a story of rags to riches, and more rags to run-of-the-mill.

 

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Pamela Raith

 


Rags

Park Theatre until 8th February

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Time Of Our Lies | ★★★★ | August 2019
The Weatherman | ★★★ | August 2019
Black Chiffon | ★★★★ | September 2019
Mother Of Him | ★★★★★ | September 2019
Fast | ★★★★ | October 2019
Stray Dogs | | November 2019
Sydney & The Old Girl | ★★★★ | November 2019
Martha, Josie And The Chinese Elvis | ★★★★★ | December 2019
The Snow Queen | ★★★★ | December 2019
Shackleton And His Stowaway | ★★★ | January 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Wasted – 3 Stars

Wasted

Wasted

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 12th September 2018

★★★

“The punk ethic is there but not authentic enough to make us root for these supposed desperados”

 

There are many famous people who continue to live with us through their work, none of whom could have known how famous they would become posthumously. Artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Johannes Vermeer, writers Franz Kafka, Edgar Allen Poe and John Keats, the Italian astronomer Galileo (who had to wait three centuries before his theories were accepted) and even J.S. Bach was little known in his own lifetime.

The creators of “Wasted”, the new musical at Southwark Playhouse, are adding the Brontë sisters to the canon, the title of which suggests that the three sisters and their often overlooked brother never achieved the recognition they sought nor found their true vocation. Hence, they believed their lives were ‘wasted’. We will never know if this was a real concern to the siblings two centuries ago, but the writers here drum home the imagined anxieties with a mixture of teenage angst and prophetic irony.

Part gig and part rock documentary, Christopher Ash’s music and Carl Miller’s book chart the struggles, frustrations and heartbreaks of Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their brother Branwell. A four-piece band form the backdrop while Libby Todd’s effective use of flight cases and sheet music create the set, reinforcing the rock theme. With hand held mics, the strong cast of four are the lead singers, imbued with a New Wave tension as they sing about being “stuck in this dump” and “we want to write”. The punk ethic is there but not authentic enough to make us root for these supposed desperados.

Although the narrative is often a touch too quaint to comfortably sit with the style of the songs, the cast do pull off the numbers with an anarchic self-possession. And you can detect a rock band’s politics permeating the foursome. Natasha Barnes’ Charlotte is pretty much the lead here; the strong contender in control, who goes onto a successful solo career. She does, after all, outlive her sisters. Siobhan Athwal gives Emily the tortured soul treatment; emotional and wayward while Molly Lynch, as Anne, is the quiet one who nevertheless is the one who comes across as the most interesting. Not to be outdone by this feminine trio, Matthew Jacobs Morgan holds his own and, even if historically Branwell fell by the wayside, Morgan certainly keeps up with the girls here.

All four sing exquisitely and they do wonders to shake off the dusty image of the Brontë family. The rock score reminds us how radical and visionary they were, yet the punch is weakened by stretching the point to its limit. And many of the songs are far too long, which does lessen the poignancy and the power of the material. Likewise, Adam Lenson’s dynamic direction is diluted in a show that does overrun its natural course. Some ruthless editing is needed for it to truly echo the characters who lived fast and died young.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Helen Maybanks

 


Wasted

Southwark Playhouse until 6th October

 

 

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