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A CurtainUp London London Review

Small clear chords hung in the air like flowers. — Little Brother
The Company
(Photo: Tim Parker)
The Landor is a tiny pub theatre in Clapham with a big heart and their production of the Broadway musical Ragtime is the most comprehensive I have seen in London. I was fortunate enough to see a full production of Ragtime at The Wolf Trap in Washington at the turn of the century, this century, rather than the last in which the musical is set. I reviewed Ragtime in 2003 in its London inception at the Piccadilly Theatre (the review), where it felt to me more like a concert version than the full McCoy. Well The Landor has put this right with as full a production with excellent choreography as can be fitted onto their miniature stage.

Robert McWhir and Andrew Keates have attracted a cast with West End leading role experience and the chorus features some with great promise who are yet to get their first big break. The result is a consummately professional show of this energetic musical which has everything: a meaningful plot with social commentary, a picture of the cross section of the demographic who make up the United States in the 1900s, choreography, big musical numbers, love ballads and the songs I love most, the Scott Joplin like rags.

The scene changes are managed by an intricate set of sliding cut out scenes in relief, manipulated with tied ropes as if one of those popular cardboard theatres played with in Victorian times. These silhouetted outlines resonate with Tateh (John Barr)’s occupation on first arriving in America making silhouette portraits with black paper, a pair of scissors and skill. The lovely costumes are in period and the white lace parasols twirl in the opening numbers. The crowded stage gives the buzz and feel of the city and works in this context.

There is outstanding singing from Mother (Louisa Lydell), Tateh (John Barr) Sarah (Rosalind James, Eponine in the Barbican’s 25th anniversary show of Les Miserables and who played Sarah in Ragtime in 2003) and I loved the deep baritone register of Kurt Kansley as the hero Coalhouse. Raymond Coker has great presence at Booker T Washington and I liked Craig Rhys-Barlow’s interesting portrayal of Houdini. Tateh and Mother’s romantic duet "Our Children " is evocative. Both Mother and her Little Brother (David McMullan) make interesting, unconventional choices for their future.

If I can heap any more superlatives on this outstanding production they would be for the band under musical director George Dye whose energetic piano playing brings the rags to life. "The Gettin’ Ready Rag" has the black cast in the most wonderful side kicking choreography led by mamma and gospel singer Emmah Beckford. Well known historical characters like "the Girl on the Swing" Evelyn Nesbitt (Hollie O’Donoghue involved in "The Crime of the Century", JP Morgan (Mitchell Mullan), Henry Ford (Leo Miles) and Emma Goldman (Judith Paris) flesh out the sense of historical period and politics.

Ragtime is a big Broadway musical in Clapham. At £18 it is the best and biggest value show in London. Don’t miss it!

Check out Elyse Sommer’s review in New York for the complete song list and many more details about this wonderful musical here.

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Music by Syephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Based on the novel Ragtime by EL Doctorow
Book by Terence McNally
Co-conceived and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince
Directed by Robert McWhir

Starring: Louisa Lydell, Rosalind James, Kurt Kansley, Raymond Coker, David McMullan, John Barr
With: Lauren Alexandra, Craig Rhys Barlow, Emmah Beckford, Jamie Birkett, Patsy Blower, Alexander Evans , Graham Hoadly, Michaela Cartmell-Hull, Daniel Jacob, Ashleigh Jones, Leo Miles, Aston New, Hollie O'Donoghue, Judith Paris, Harry Polden/George Smith, Lily Burgering/Ashley Glish
Musical Director and Additional Arrangements: George Dye
Choreography by Matthew Gould
Design: Martin Thomas
Sound: Sarah Weltman
Lighting: Howard Hudson
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes including one interval
Box Office: 020 7737 7276
Booking to 8th October 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th September 2011 performance at The Landor Theatre, 70 Landor Road, London SW9 9PH (Tube:Clapham North)

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