The beauty of the Hope Mill Theatre is that it manages to completely transform a musical and breathe new life into it when it’s performed in the intimacy of this renovated mill in Manchester.
RAGS is a musical about the immigrant experience in America. Following the story of Rebecca and David, a Jewish mother and son that are fresh off the boat and looking for a better life, we watch her struggle to fit into a world that doesn’t feel like home. Constantly battling with keeping her identity and sacrificing to the American life, we follow the difficulties she faces.
Stephen Schwartz’s rich score is infused with so so many influences from traditional Jewish music, to ragtime, musical theatre and more. It’s a show about different nationalities and cultures coming together, which is reflected in the real collision of musical styles that Schwartz delves into. This creates a really powerful theatrical atmosphere as each story weaves into one another.
Both Gregor Donnelly’s set design and Derek Anderson’s lighting design compliment each other to invite us into the lives of these immigrants. The innovative use of stacked suitcases at the back of the stage creates that sense that these characters never really feeling settled, and Anderson’s lighting enhances the emotions with a design that brings tension to the narrative.
Rebecca Trehearn takes on the role of Rebecca and her performance alone is one of the finest I’ve ever seen at the Hope Mill Theatre. She brings a real sincerity to the role and you find yourself really connecting with her. Her natural ability to tap into the pain and confliction she feels is extraordinary. It’s no secret that Trehearn’s vocals are astonishing, but getting to witness that in such an intimate space is a real privilege. Her performance of Children Of The Wind sends shivers down your spine, it’s hopeful, moving and triumphant.
This production boasts such a strong cast that give a breathtaking performance both individually and as an ensemble. When Rebecca turns up in New York, she is taken in by her friend Bella and lives and works with her family. Lydia White plays the role of Bella with such conviction, she brings real character to the role and her voice is blissful. Michael S Siegel exudes real warmth as the fatherly figure in the house, his sharp humour and paternal nature really capture your heart. Lochlan White played the role of David and gave a superb performance as the youngster with his crisp vocals and playful characterisation.
It’s not all doom and gloom, the show has the perfect balance of light and shade and it has some fantastically funny moments. Such as a mini performance of a ‘Jewish Hamet’ but especially Valda Aviks in the role of Rachel, an older lady that sets her sights on Avram. She has tremendous stage presence and really commands the entire audience with her extravagant character.
The Hope Mill Theatre’s casting really is spot on every time, and they’ve brought together an ensemble of characters that feel like a real family. Sam Peggs is charming as Bella’s lover Ben, who also showcases his incredibly impressive piano skills, and Robert Tripolino is oozing with charisma and passion as the Italian man Sal that falls for Rebecca.
The actor musicians worked wonders for this production, as the music really is the soul of the show. James Dangerfield, Emma Fraser, James Hastings and Hanna Khogali work incredibly hard throughout the show taking on numerous roles and playing their instruments with expression and flair.
RAGS is a real theatrical experience and storytelling at its best. Stephen Schwartz’s stunning score is paired with an astounding group of actors that bring this potent, poignant and scarily relevant story to life in the most beautiful way.
On at the Hope Mill Theatre until the 6th of April, tickets and information can be found on their website.
Photo credit: Nathan Chandler