Theatre Review: RAGS – Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

The cast of RAGS at Hope Mill Theatre

The cast of RAGS at Hope Mill Theatre. Photo Credit: Nathan Chandler

With great performances, a poignant story and a stunning score, Hope Mill Theatre breathe new life into underrated musical RAGS

5 out of 5 stars

Just ahead of the highly anticipated opening of it’s Hope Aria Academy, Hope Mill Theatre presents it’s eleventh in house musical, RAGS.

This show has somewhat of a troubled past, first opening in 1986 and closing after just four performances. It has since been revised multiple times. With the original book by FIDDLER ON THE ROOF’s Joseph Stein and lyrics by WICKED’s Stephen Schwartz, it seems surprising that a pairing of the calibre hasn’t had more recognition. Nevertheless, Hope Mill Theatre breathes new life into this lesser known musical and makes it feel simultaneously modern and fresh, yet classic.

Rebecca Trehearn as Rebecca in RAGS at Hope Mill Theatre

Rebecca Trehearn as Rebecca in RAGS. Photo Credit: Nathan Chandler

RAGS feels like a natural follow up to FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and could even be reworked to involve Tevye and his daughters, so expect to hear the skilful dialogue and dry wit of Joseph Stein woven throughout. The book has been revised by David Thompson, who has worked Stein’s unruly story into a wonderful, touching tale. The story focuses on Rebecca (Rebecca Trehearn) and her son David (George Varley/Lochlan White), Jewish immigrants who travel to America in hopes of a better life. There, they join Bella (Lydia White) and her father Avram (Michael S. Siegel), and his sister’s family. Rebecca dreams of a better life for her, her son and Bella, whom she grows close to, but amidst the unrest and racism of the time, it isn’t easy. Despite being set in 1910, RAGS feels extremely relevant in today’s political climate.

With the collaboration of Charles Strouse and Stephen Schwartz, the score is phenomenal. Beautifully blending elements of legit and contemporary to reflect the changing times within the story, as well as drawing from the musical styles of all the cultures within the story. Every song is wonderfully memorable, from the lighthearted FABRIC OF AMERICA to Rebecca’s haunting solo CHILDREN OF THE WIND. It’s the full company numbers that truly stand out, with the harmonies in BREAD AND FREEDOM and the finale really making your hair stand on end.

Robert Tripolino as Sal, Rebecca Trehearn as Rebecca and the cast of RAGS

Robert Tripolino as Sal, Rebecca Trehearn as Rebecca and the cast of RAGS. Photo Credit: Nathan Chandler

The set for this show, designed by Gregor Donnelly, is stunning, and far more elaborate than we are used to seeing at Hope Mill. With moving setpieces and hundreds of suitcases, this is all helped by Derek Anderson’s wonderful lighting, that really adds to the atmosphere of the piece.

The story revolves largely around its female characters, mostly Rebecca and Bella, and their friendship is extremely well written, and Trehearn and White give wonderful believable performances. Their love affairs with Sal (Robert Tripolino) and Ben (Sam Peggs) are distinct and well developed, and both men are charming and engaging in their own ways, with Peggs having surprising depth in the second act.

RAGS feels like a classic piece of musical theatre that wasn’t appreciated during its time. The Hope Mill Theatre team has refined it, to curate it into a slick, moving production, telling an old story that still feels painstakingly relevant. With great performances, a poignant story and stunning music, hopefully, this production will bring some popularity to this underrated musical.

RAGS runs at Hope Mill Theatre until 6 April 2019