Taken from the musical era, Ragtime is performed upon a stave of hatred, rebellion and piano blues. The storyline, although a little clunky and inconsistent at times, follows examples of people trying to survive in early twentieth century America and is perfectly timed. Trump, refugees, and #blacklivesmatter are all prominent themes which collectively popped up in my mind throughout the performance. It makes us aware of how little has changed since Ragtime was written and how much turmoil still happens within the topics of segregation and power hunger. To bring this point home even more, the story involves specific historical stories that are cleverly weaved throughout to remind us that this was a time that did exist, and how hard it was to be an immigrant or person of colour in America in those times.
I really adored watching Tateh’s story unfold. The energy that Gary Tushaw displays within the first 20 minutes of his character appearing on stage is a rollercoaster to follow and you can already tell from these first moments, that the audience are in for a significantly brilliant performance.
The attention to detail that the cast show in musicality is second to none. Not only do the majority of the cast (including the children) also play an instrument at various places through the show, but the diction and, dynamics throughout the songs were second to none. I honestly felt that throughout performances of both solo and ensemble songs, that I was listening to a cast recording that had been edited to perfection. The variety and use of all the different instruments, not only used to play, but ingeniously also used as props and scenery at points is an artistic masterpiece, exposing the true standard of the cast.
Anita Louise Combe as the Mother offers a standout performance. Musically, she highlights all the right areas perfectly and you can really grasp her emotional depth that she explores with the character. Jennifer Saayeng’s rendition of ‘You’re Daddy’s Son’ is incredible; it is raw and subtle yet prominent with pain, and I have to admit that it did reduce me to tears (and I’ve heard that song many, many times).
I felt as though the piece mentioned some very good points, but sometimes it dragged on a little too far or reiterated points that had already been made. Artistically though, it’s a complete treasure. I think if anything, the piece could benefit from a larger, perhaps more conventionally shaped theatre, as the use of instruments, set and cast working together like cogs is a spectacle (and would perhaps also benefit from a lack of train sounds from above which did hinder some intentionally quiet moments). As a piece of musical theatre, Ragtime is up there at the top with the greats, completely justified by an exceptional cast.
Ragtime is playing at Charing Cross Theatre until 10 December. For more information and tickets, see Charing Cross Theatre website.
Photo: Scott Rylander