Of Rags and Bones

Mon 6th – Sat 11th August 2018

reviews

Megan Luesley

at 01:57 on 8th Aug 2018

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Small cast shows are the usual at the Fringe, and besides finance there’s a reason for that – most of the venues are quite small. So there’s something quite refreshing about the eighteen strong cast of Newbury Youth Theatre’s ‘Of Rags and Bones’. But having that large a cast onstage for the whole performance requires a feat of direction and choreography, and unfortunately, despite the show being overall impressive, co-directors Tony and Amy Trigwell-Jones don’t quite manage to pull it off, and in such a small space the large cast sometimes make the stage feel cluttered.

Very loosely inspired by Anaïs Nin’s collection of short stories, ‘Under a Glass Bell’, ‘Of Rags and Bones’ takes a series of unrelated stories and connects them through a group of rag-and-bone men. But unlike their historical counterparts, this group collects things for personal, sentimental reasons rather than resale. The show is structured around the stories that surround objects, as they explain themselves to a critical businessman.

Firstly, credit must go to the costumes and makeup. The ragtag group all wear matching shades of brown and beige, but there are little quirks that make each unique – the flower collector has them painted on her face, and a boy who hoards glasses has a pair hanging from his trousers. They’re just similar enough for the ensemble to merge, but the little individual elements are a nice touch.

With a limited set consisting of a few boxes (with some very pretty lights, I might add), the well-drilled young cast create location after location. Sometimes, however, it’s just too busy. Some of the show’s most effective moments are quieter, more still, with one or two performers as the focal point – take a charming exchange as one character teaches another sign language. By contrast, often the stage is just jam-packed with movement, and it’s hard to know exactly where to focus (in this case, lighting design could have helped to direct the audience’s attention, but in a Fringe venue this understandably isn’t always possible). But the sheer flexibility and commitment of the ensemble is certainly impressive.

As a piece about love and storytelling, ‘Of Rags and Bones’ does have its poignant moments, although it would have done to give these relationships more time and space to breathe, perhaps by cutting down on some less crucial elements. The story of Ella, a young deaf girl, and her adoring mother was especially affecting in the way it emphasised the unconditional love between them through ribbons. There’s a lot of creativity at work here from the cast. Special mention, too, to the music, composed by cast member Toby Davies and almost all performed onstage – from violin to acoustic guitar to something like a mandolin, it was all perfectly atmospheric and really lifted some scenes.

Overall, ‘Of Rags and Bones’ was, like its title suggests, somewhat rough around the edges and maybe lacked a bit of shape and cohesion. But the young cast displayed talent and commitment aplenty, and there are some tender little nuggets that were deeply moving. An impressive show that the company can be proud of.

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Anna Marshall

at 08:38 on 8th Aug 2018

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“If I speak louder can you read my lips? Well it’s not that hard!” shouts an ostentatiously entitled chorus projecting at a young deaf girl, who silently darts her lonely way around the stage in a ballet-like sequence. A young man sings out a self-penned acoustic guitar song as the others swirl around him; there’s a heartwarming bromance that demonstrates an intriguing game involving biting bananas; and we meet a young mad hatter-type character named Feathers who grabs our attention for some tenderly fairytale scenes. 'Of Rags and Bones' is an excellent example of an ensemble acting to combine their individual assets for a greater good. Each is constantly contributing to and building the scene, so that despite there only being a few ‘leads’ at a time, the energy invested is relentless and rewarding. Newbury Youth Theatre proudly tears down any restrictions their youth could imply: ‘Of Rags and Bones’ offers an insightful viewpoint of the world.

The plotline does conform to some standard amateur dramatics devices, loosely linking many small but distinct stories. The tales of Anais Nin have been revitalised to tell some morally ambiguous and sometimes simplistic narratives. The cast are dressed simply to allow for easy multiroling: yet their earthy colour scheme and cropped trousers do somewhat resemble a herd of hobbits rather than a homeless gang. And in light of the current homelessness epidemic, perhaps it seems less thoughtful to depict a romanticised and lovably Bohemian underclass – haven’t we moved on since Dickens?

The custom tailoring of this play to suit their young actors is demonstrated from the offset, with impressive musical interludes from various members of the young cast. This is done with subtlety and only when needed: it enhances rare moments, and hints at only the tip of a talent iceberg. The large company move together to create bustling crowds or detailed rooms, or vanish entirely from view, whilst remaining on stage throughout. Like rolling waves, the chorus seemed to release a few actors at a time to star briefly in the surf, before being sucked back into the depths, to humbly allow another group to take over. It kept the performance fresh and engaging.

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