Review: Rags, Hope Mill Theatre

The company of Rags
The company of Rags

From Hamilton to Fiddler on the Roof and The Jungle, the immigrant story has been as popular as ever on our stages of late and that’s echoed in this revival of Joseph Stein, Stephen Schwartz and Charles Strouse’s musical set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century.

Arriving by ship on Ellis Island, Rebecca Hershkowitz is a Jewish woman who has fled Russia with her young son David. With her mind set on providing a free and prosperous life for her child, she is taken in by a fellow Jewish immigrant whose daughter, Bella, she had befriended en route. Immediately she impresses with her talent for sewing, which leads, initially, to her rise before proving her fall.

Olivier Award-winner Rebecca Trehearn takes on the role of her namesake, and is simply stunning as a mother who will stop at nothing to provide for her son, regardless of the seemingly constant barrage of obstacles in her way. As Bella, Lydia White wonderfully portrays a young woman who has escaped a life of oppression only to find that the promise of freedom was not all it was made out to be – certainly a great talent to watch out for in the future.

 

The Company of Rags
The Company of Rags

But this piece is a true ensemble effort with outstanding performances from the whole cast – including the quartet of actor-musos who brilliantly conjure up the multi-cultural setting of 1910s New York.

Returning to the musical after directing a version in the West End  five years ago, Bronagh Lagan’s direction is poignant and pacey, her familiarity with the piece means nothing feels heavy handed or under-explored. Nick Barstow’s musical direction is similarly accomplished, and the whole night is a real treat for the ears. Designs by Gregor Donnelly make full use of the tiny Hope Mill Theatre space and together with  evocative lighting from Derek Anderson, it feels like this intimate tale is being told on a much grander scale.

Lyricist Stephen Schwartz has spent a lot of time with this company, producing a brand new production which fans of the show and newcomers alike are certain to fall in love with. It’s another hit from the Manchester-based Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Entertainment, who once again prove their commitment to nurturing musicals and producing first class productions.

 

Five stars

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