RAGTIME Charing Cross Theatre, SW1




America’s twentieth century belongs to all of us, and its events and themes echo round the world: the rise of corporate power, the racial and class struggle towards justice, the tension between peaceful slow reformers and firebrands, mass immigration and assimilation, the birth of the movies , the cult of celebrity. And so does America’s music: from the blues to ragtime and rock.

E.L.Doctorow’s 1975 novel imagined a decade from 1902-1912, recklessly involving in its plot real historical figures and events – Harry Houdini’s rise in showbiz, Henry Ford and his Model T Ford, musichall stars. The last London revival went a bit portentously heavy – in design terms – on modern American politics, Obama, the moon landing, fast food, all that. Now, with the sure hand and vigorous ensemble work which director Thom Southerland brought to his successful TITANIC, the little Charing Cross Theatre presents it anew in a elegantly versatile design by Tom Rogers and Toots Butcher.

It’s a head-reeling two and a half hours: one critic felt positively “assaulted” by its almost constant stream of big numbers, and to be honest it wouldn’t have lost anything by trimming. But I plunged, hazy and miserable with a heavy cold , right into its intertwined stories at an enthusiastic matinee: I left with the sort of satisfaction you get when you’ve finished a great epic novel. Which is almost better when like me you haven’t yet read the said novel, but I couldn’t be more pleased to read that the author himself loved what Terence McNally and composer Stephen Flaherty (lyrics, Lynn Ahrens) did to his story.


And he’’d be pleased too with Southerland and his spirited cast: free-moving, at one point surrounding us, leaping on and off pianos with unlikely ease. Especially, as she lies at the novel’s heart, he should be glad of Anita Louise Combe as Mother: her voice is spectacular, and so is Ako Mitchell as the wronged Coalhouse: darkly magnificent, dangerous and fine. And in this pocket theatre, by the way, all the seats are very good indeed…


box office (0)20 7400 1234 to 20 Dec

rating four   4 Meece Rating


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