Follow the wooden arrows in Regent’s Park marked ‘Open Air Theatre’. They lead you to a secret garden where Guardian readers delight, the stars are the spotlights and the actors have to roll with the road noise.
The sun might shine during a death scene and a cloud might hang over a happy ending, but Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre gets everything within their control bang on. This year Artistic Director Timothy Sheader opened the summer series with Rag Time, an American musical about the people who lived and died in the melting pot. It starts in 1906 when Harold Houdini was up to his old tricks, the poster girl was Evelyn Nesbit and Henry Ford made an orderly line.
With Rag Time, Sheader has pulled off something special. Every member of the cast is the best dancer/ singer/ actor you’ve ever seen in a live show, there are enough jazz hands to wave away the rain and the set includes a micro Statue of Liberty that goes up and down at will, according to the prosperity of the so called Land of Prosperity. Characters include Tateh, an immigrant and an artist struggling to make enough money to feed and clothe his sweet daughter; ‘Mother’, a well-off, forward-thinking woman who takes in a servant girl and her baby; ‘Father’, Mother’s narrow-minded husband; a jazz musician called Coalhouse Walker; the real life trade unionist Emma Goldman and the real life Booker T Washington. Some of them live, some of them die, some make it in America, others lose themselves, and the severed billboard of Obama looming over the stage reading ‘DARE TO DREAM’ acts as a portal to the future, reminding us where these characters’ struggles and dreams will end up a hundred years later.
Short of screaming in your faces “GO AND SEE RAG TIME” it’s hard to get its brilliance across. Running until September, there’s plenty of time to enrich your life with it, and lots more to see at the theatre too if, not quite life changing, but certainly night-changing, musicals aren’t your thing. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is currently showing too, there’s a night of deadpan comedy from Jimmy Carr and screenings of Moulin Rouge, Edward Scissorhands and Pan’s Labyrinth. Although considering the weather this week, best to book for July!
Rag Time runs at the Open Air Theatre until 8th September 2012. For full programme details visit openairtheatre.org.
Text: Sarah Raphael