Tag Archives: Pamela Raith

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But ‘Rags’ does depart from ‘Fiddler’ in its sheer volume of historical content, including everything from the 1909 Shirtwaist strikes and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire to the emergence of feminism, the rising popularity of Yiddish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

 

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Oi Frog & Friends! 

★★★★★

Lyric Theatre

Oi Frog & Friends!

Oi Frog & Friends!

Lyric Theatre

Reviewed – 5 December 2019

★★★★★

 

“Highly recommended for its sparkling script, extraordinary performances and  wonderful design”

 

It’s not even Christmas yet, but if you and your kids are already suffering from a surfeit of seasonal festivities and are looking for something that won’t jingle bells and ho, ho, ho at you, (except in a non-Christmassy way) then hurry along to the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. Here you will find the delightful Oi Frog and Friends! Based on the best selling children’s book by Kes Gray and Jim Field, this fifty five minute entertainment provides all the elements of a good story, presented in a very young child friendly way. So child friendly, in fact, that this reviewer observed at least one infant happily enjoying the action. Kudos to the parents for getting their kids to good theatre at such a young age, and kudos to adaptors Emma Earle, Zoe Squire, Luke Bateman and Richy Hughes for managing such a seamless transition from the page to the stage.

Oi Frog and Friends! is not just entertainment, however. It has some important things to teach about finding one’s place (and sitting still on it) , and all the fun one can have with words while doing it. It’s a simple enough story. At the Sittingbottom School, (ho, ho) the bossy prefect Cat has the rule book about who sits on what—all determined by what rhymes with your name. Easy enough if you are a hare (chair), a fox (box) or a cat (mat). But what if you are an ostrich or a badger? Into this rule bound classroom comes Frog, a new student whose questions (and new rhymes) overturn the established order, much to Cat’s dismay, and the horror of the local media—a guest star turn by Meerkat TV’s Bob Burrows. (There’s a lot of funny punning as well as rhyming in this script, and you get drawn in. Oops).

The audience is enticed into this enchanting world by four actors who manage a breathtaking quantity of performance skills at breakneck speed. With the able direction of Emma Earle, they portray any number of animals using a combination of costumes and puppetry, and of course, sing and dance when appropriate as well. Particularly outstanding are John Winchester as Frog, and Darren Seed as Dog, but really the whole cast is brilliant at the way they leap nimbly between roles, including assisting one another when some nifty bunraku-type puppetry skills are required. Zoe Squire and Yvonne Stone, responsible for design, have come up with inventive creations that flawlessly integrate both actor and puppet into the character they play. Dog’s design is particularly clever in this respect, and it takes a skilled performer to be able to manage all the moving pieces in such a convincing way. Cat, played by Lucy Tuck, is a more conventionally designed character but still demands a lot of athleticism and comic ability. Tuck’s portrayal of a cat who is terrified of losing the last of her nine lives, is both funny and touching. The fourth member of the cast is Simon Yadoo as Cheetah, although he assists with the puppetry and takes on so many roles that it’s easy to lose count of how many times he changes costumes (and puppets). Still, his Carmen Miranda inspired turn as a Cheetah that must sit on a fajita was a big hit with the kids in the audience, and yes, even the big kids otherwise known as their parents.

In short, Oi Frog and Friends! is the perfect show to counter the pre-Christmas blahs, and satisfy the kid in all of us. Highly recommended for its sparkling script, extraordinary performances and wonderful design. It’s a rhyming good time! O.K. O.K—I’ll show myself out.

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Pamela Raith

 


Oi Frog & Friends!

Lyric Theatre until 5th January

 

Last ten shows reviewed by Dominica:
Now Is Time To Say Nothing | ★★★★ | Battersea Arts Centre | October 2019
The Accident Did Not Take Place | ★★ | Pleasance Theatre | October 2019
The Fetch Wilson | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | October 2019
The Hypnotist | ★★½ | Pleasance Theatre | October 2019
The Unseen Hour | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | October 2019
Cinderella | ★★★★ | The Vaults | November 2019
Iphigenia In Aulis | ★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | November 2019
Madame Ovary | ★★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | November 2019
The Snowman | ★★★★ | Peacock Theatre | November 2019
Touching The Void | ★★★★ | Duke Of York’s Theatre | November 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews