REVIEW: RAGTIME (Charing Cross Theatre) ★★★★★


RAGTIME is a show which has been revived time and time again over the last twenty years, however Terrence McNally, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens has given a new breath of life in Thom Southerland’s production.

Thom Southerland uses the actor musician element fantastically from start to end. It keeps the stage lively and busy and yet never distracts from the action, meaning the story is easily followed. He also takes full advantage of Tom Rogers and Toots Butcher’s clever yet simple set, creating beautiful images on stage and framing the whole story fantastically. However, the show never becomes about gimmicks or tricks, as all of the elements are used as a wonderful foundation for the story to be told.

Anita Louise Combe is perfectly cast as Mother, and plays the part with captivating grace. Her presence on stage is undeniable as she tells the beautiful story of a woman who is so much more than just a wife. Earl Carpenter (Father) plays across from her brilliantly, a cold apparently unfeeling man, yet never falling victim to seeing his character as one dimensional, and actually proving to be one of the characters I felt the most sorry for. To contrast him is Gary Tushaw as Tateh, who embodies a hopeful and starry-eyed young father and takes us on a heart-wrenching journey as his dreams prove to perhaps not to be a reality. Never once does Tushaw break out of his character, and I was exhausted for him by the end of the show, as he plows through with unbelievable passion and energy.

They are supported by two fantastic young actors, Alana Hinge (Little Girl) and Ethan Quinn (Little Boy). The two characters journeys are particularly heavy, coming up against very serious and complex issues, and yet these two young performers do not let it faze them at all. Both embody their characters with ease and their relationships with their respective onstage parents give the show the heartwarming foundation it needs to succeed. If these parts were played poorly, I believe it could be the downfall of a show like this, and yet they bring so much to the piece.

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Ako Mitchell and Jennifer Saayeng’s Sarah and Coalhouse Walker Jr. are the heart of the show, as we watch a truly fantastic and heartbreaking relationship unfold. Their voices are spectacular and they embody the characters wonderfully.

While all the leads are brilliant, the standout performance of the whole piece is Jonathan Stewart as Younger Brother. His journey as a young naive boy into a ferociously passionate man is breathtaking, and his beautiful voice soars through the Charing Cross Theatre effortlessly pulling us in.

It would be a crime not to mention Jordan Li-Smith, the Musical Director who is onstage for the duration of the show, conducting the band as well as playing the piano (he had learnt the entire score by heart and to make it even harder, the piano spent a lot of the show spinning) and yet never pulling us out of the world of the show, only adding to it. It was a brilliant final touch to an already very impressive show.

The show is riveting and powerful with beautiful music and a fantastic cast. Not one to miss.

Reviewed by Kara Taylor Alberts (@karaalberts)
Photo: Annabel Vere & Scott Rylander

RAGTIME plays at the Charing Cross Theatre until 10 December 2016