Performed at the Barbican, London.
The end of Fiddler On the Roof sees Tevye, his family and neighbours forced out of their homeland, leaving for new lands and new lives. Rags can be seen as a continuation of their story, albeit with different characters, for it tells of other Jewish displaced immigrants arriving in New York. Joseph Stein’s book focuses on newly arrived Rebecca and son, David, seeking her husband who left them six years previously to set up a life for them in America.
Many issues are covered in this vivid tapestry of life in the overcrowded tenements as the immigrants struggle to survive: exploitation by ruthless employers, firetrap sweatshops, new ways challenging Orthodox religion. Amidst all this seriousness there is plenty of comedy and a wealth of exhilarating music and lyrics from Charles Strouse and Stephen Schwartz.
One has come to expect full-scale productions from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and this one fulfilled all expectations – a solid, adaptable set designed by Susannah Henry, a 23-piece orchestra (Steven Edis is musical director), plus an onstage Klezmer band and great ensemble work from a large cast. And of course with direction by Martin Connor and choreography by Bill Deamer, a great polished show can be taken as read.
Lois Meleri-Jones took on the central role of Rebecca and gave a performance of great quality – she ably reflected the many facets of this character and her singing was powerful as well as beautiful. One of the highlights was leading ‘Children of the Wind’ from a gentle ballad into a full-blown anthem. There was a particularly striking performance from Grace Andrews as Bella Cohen – full of charm and sweetness in her scenes with boyfriend Ben (confidently played by Ryan Van Champion). Yet full of anger and passion when confronting her restricting father in the title song.
Rhys Isaac-Jones’ overcame the problem of being too old and too tall for the part of young David by getting his body to express the movements and stance of a young boy – a fine piece of understated acting.
There were nice moments of comedy from Christopher Currie as Bella’s father and Melanie Heslop as the widow Rachel. Heslop’s sly delivery of ‘Three Sunny Rooms’ was beautifully timed. The most outrageous comedy came when Rebecca was taken to a Yiddish theatre for a performance of Hamlet which erupted into ‘Cheer Up Hamlet’. Alex Large as the moody Dane led the company with his Cossack dancing into one of Deamer’s typically dynamic dance numbers. From all the other good performances there was one that deserved singling out. Eva Feiler, in addition to playing a Bronx Ophelia, also stood out as the Klezmer singer, particularly with ‘Blame It On the Summer Night’.
David Hershkowitz – TOM LINCOLN
Rebecca Hershkowitz – LOIS MELERI-JONES
Young David – RHYS ISAAC-JONES
Bella Cohen – GRACE ANDREWS
Ben – RYAN VAN CHAMPION
Avram Cohen – CHRISTOPHER CURRIE
Saul – MAXIMILIEN SEWERYN
Rachel – MELANIE HESLOP
Nathan Hershkowitz – JAMES MACK
Ophelia/Klezmer singer – EVA FEILER
Hamlet – ALEX LARGE
Mr Bronstein – JANIE SATTERTHWAITE
Big Tim Sullivan – SAM McARDLE
Mrs Sullivan – EVELYN MILLER
Ellis Island guard – STEFAN ADEGBOLA
Ellis Island guard – CORMAC BROWN
Recruiter – ROB CALLENDER
Huckster – PATRICK WALSHE McBRIDE
Rosa – JESSICA MADSEN
Mrs Price – SOPHIE KHAN LEVY
Rag Picker – DINITA GOHIL
Morris’s mother – ELEANOR WILLIAMS
Immigrants – ARIANNA FIRTH, GETHIN LEWIS, LORENA PAZ, LINDSEY PRESTON, JAMES QUILLIGAN, NICHOLAS SHIRM, BRYONY SOOTHILL, BERTIE WATSON