Both the Bridewell Theatre and its resident company Sedos are largely hidden gems. Quietly tucked behind Fleet Street they continuously produce high quality plays and musicals. Their latest, Ragtime, is a remarkable achievement for an amateur company at a fringe venue. A simple wooden set easily adapts to every scene, while excellent costumes add genuine authenticity; all of which provide a credible snapshot of New York in the early 20th Century. Sitting close to the dividing curtains stage left I could feel the draught of actors rushing to their marks; similarly, I could hear props being wheeled into position. It heightened the atmosphere and proved how hard everyone works on this production.
Ragtime tells the story of America at the dawn of the modern world; a narrative drawn from three very different perspectives; upper class Mother (Chloe Faine) a study in gentility from the suburbs; Jewish immigrant Tateh (Rob Archibald) striving for acceptance and Coalhouse Walker Jr (Jonathan Grant), Harlem musician and purveyor of an exciting new style of music. Their lives become inextricably linked as a cultural melting pot begins to stir in a rapidly changing society.
The songs shine like a diamond as some glorious set pieces bury an insubstantial plot. Booker T. Washington, J.P Morgan, Henry Ford and Harry Houdini all appear to give the narrative some much needed historical context. Even so, the storyline does little more than gently simmer in the background. There are some brilliant ensemble vocals, all of which are well rehearsed and note perfect. Many of the best tunes feature another real-life personality, chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit (Deborah Lean); especially on rousing numbers like Crime of the Century and Atlantic City. A similarly excellent 19-piece orchestra manages to squeeze behind a cramped set and yet still play out of their skins.
Like many musicals, Ragtime puts its creative energy into the staging of the bright and tuneful songs. The storyline is left to sit in the background because the songs easily compensate for its shortcomings. Nevertheless, Sedos mange to execute a perfect reading of a challenging score with multiple scene transitions.
Book by: Terrence McNally
Music by: Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by: Lynn Ahrens
Based on the novel by: E.L. Doctorow
Directed by: Matt Gould
Musical Direction by: Ryan Macaulay
Choreography by: Victoria-Louise Currie and Rachel Elfassy-Bitoun
Produced by: Lizzie Levett and Pippa Kyle
Booking Link: https://sedos.co.uk/secure/boxoffice/production.php
Booking Until: 23 November 2019