"Big American musical brilliantly worked"
by Aline Waites on 09/09/11

Ragtime is a big show and the Landor is a tiny theatre in which Robert McWhir, the artistic director continually produces miracles of musical theatre and this one is no exception.

With a cast of 21 people - many of whom are on stage all the time - it succeeds quite brilliantly. The show begins with a magnificent and emotional prologue sung by the entire company, telling us about the state of the US nation at the beginning of the twentieth century. . The musical arrangements for the tiny five piece orchestra are handled expertly by George Dyer and the choral singing raises the roof with delicious harmonies. It is difficult to believe that this could have been bettered when it was backed by a full symphony orchestra in the original production.

The plot centres around three lots of people. The well to do family with a racist father who thinks he is totally in the right to refuse to shake hands with a black man, and the mother, who begins as a typical housewife but makes a journey into liberalism when she finds a black baby in her garden. The baby belongs to Sarah whose lover is Coalhouse, a charming, well educated piano player and it is his story that dominates most of the plot. Finally there is the poor Jewish immigrant who finds a way to succeed in an almost impossible situation. These plots are all intertwined and make for a powerful story with some actor/singers of exceptional talents.
There is a passionate performance from John Barr who plays the poor immigrant; more passion and fancy singing from Louisa Lydell as The Mother; brilliance from Rosalind James as Sarah - and great sexual energy and mellifluous singing from Kurt Kansley as Coalhouse. I also liked Alexander Evans as the father - not a sympathetic role but a well thought out and well travelled performance. There are cameos from famous people of the day - Evelyn Nesbit, Houdini, J.P Morgan and Henry Ford and there is a strong performance from Judith Paris as Emma Goldman.

The production values, as always at the Landor, are effective and appropriate. The costumes by Hannah Gibbs, set by Martin Thomas and lighting by Howard Hudson are all superb. The choreography is by Matthew Gould who brings his own innovative dance style to the actual dancing items and his expertise to the crowd control of the 21 actors on the minute stage.

There are some oddities in the plot but the closeness of the actors help us to take it without flinching. We are so near to them that we feel totally integrated into whatever happens on stage.


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