Photo: @Nathan Chandler

Review: RAGS

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This new, re-imagined version of the musical RAGS is painfully relevant in today’s political climate. Set in 1911 and spanning the course of a year, RAGS details the journey of a group of Jewish immigrants living in New York City and the struggles that they encounter whilst searching for a happy life.

This version, with lyrics from Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) and a revised book by David Thompson, highlights the ongoing relevance of RAGS by drawing reference to issues that are still prevalent now. With cleverly crafted lyrics and one-liners that resonated across the audience, RAGS is a spectacular example of a show which breaks down the barriers between past and present.

Shifting between poignant and uplifting, RAGS was masterfully crafted, with a stage and set design that became both a crowded tenement and the spacious skyline of New York City. Lydia White shone in her professional debut role as Bella, a young girl who makes the journey from Russia to New York to be with her father, remaining optimistic despite the hard times. White’s portrayal was incredibly moving, especially as Bella’s relationship with Ben (Sam Peggs) developed as the play progressed; the couple became a force that everyone was rooting for.

Photo: @Nathan Chandler

Robert Tripolino as Sal, Rebecca Trehearn as Rebecca and the cast of RAGS. Photo: @Nathan Chandler

Robert Tripolino was excellent in his fast-paced and funny portrayal of Sal, an Italian worker leading the cause for strike action. Hopping between comedic one-liners, inspiring insights, and revolutionary fervour, Tripolino’s ability to change between playfulness and righteous anger was captivating, and quickly established him as an audience favourite.

Rebecca Trehearn also deserves a mention for her spectacular performance as the lead role Rebecca. Along with her son David (George Varley/Lochlan White), Rebecca must navigate a new life in New York City with no money to her name. Trehearn’s portrayal of a woman desperate to guarantee a good life for her child was heartbreaking, and yet at times uplifting.

The music itself, inspired by American Ragtime Performances, was lively and upbeat throughout most of the first act but abruptly shifted to melancholic and violin-heavy within the second act. This was a contrast which served to highlight the highs and lows that the characters face throughout the course of the performance. Having members of the band not only onstage but integrated into the action as New York City street performers highlighted the excellent design and directors. The presence of the musicians onstage created a busy atmosphere and cleverly showcased the talents of the musicians who were playing, whilst also following the rapid choreography and movement of the musical numbers.

RAGS is a story about immigration and struggling to fit in, but it is centred around themes of love and hope. Family, friends, romance: RAGS emphasised the importance of human connection in hard times, focused through the lens of Jewish community values, yet applicable and relevant to everyone. In RAGS, tragedy and hope collide to produce a bittersweet, emotional upheaval of a performance, creating laughter and tears in equal measure.

Tags: Hope Mill Theatre, musical, reviews, Stephen Schwartz

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