Wednesday 15 August 2012
Theatre review: Ragtime
The Comedy of Errors. The set here has a very distressed look, of a junkyard filled with rubble and modern rubbish, and a cast dressed in modern-day clothes (costume design by Laura Hopkins) gradually change into looks more suited to 1906 as the show goes on. It's a striking visual conceit although some of the modern-day references make more sense than others: The tattered Obama election poster that forms the backdrop seems a suitable image to overlook a story tracing the earliest days of black Americans demanding the same rights and respect as whites; the iPad someone deposits onstage mid-song at the end of the first act is a bit more baffling.
The show itself boasts some strong songs and a lot of powerful emotional moments. The slightly odd framing device did mean it took me a while to really get into the story but once its various threads started to become clear I found myself really involved and enjoying it. Given the changes made to the stage (even some of the seating has been rejigged to accommodate the new thrust) it's a shame director Timothy Sheader and especially choreographer Javier de Frutos have largely blocked the action straight out to the front, but regardless there's still plenty of spectacle wherever you end up sitting.
Pippin, plays Craig's idealistic Younger Brother, whose tendency to get entranced by charismatic figures can land him in trouble. The whole thing is peppered with appearances by real-life figures of the times, like Harry Houdini (Stephane Anelli) who has a tendency to make surprise appearances out of locked parts of the set. It took a while for me to warm to (and the fact that it sets my hayfever off like crazy means I can never really love this theatre and am often distracted) but by the end I found Ragtime moving and impressive.
Ragtime by Terrence McNally, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, is booking in repertory until the 8th of September at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park.
Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes including interval.