Of Rags and Bones is a heart-warming but also faintly unsettling tale – or, rather, a series of tales, of which more in a moment. The narration is provided by a group of waifs and strays living on the edges of a city, scavengers of food, clothes; but also collectors of the hopes, dreams and ambitions that the rest of us consume, or use only inexpertly, and then casually discard.
The various narratives describe failed or damaged emotional relationships which have left some kind of scar but also some kind of hope. Tales of disability, misplaced love, the problems of others and teenage rivalries: these are the experiences the rag and bones people gather, store, treasure and – in the right circumstances – offer to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see the wisdom they contain.
Each of the four stories wraps into the overarching theme in a way which, if not at the time immediately obvious, is at the end highly satisfying. They are told to one character, a man very different in attire and attitude from them, who is at first patronising and dismissive of the tales unfolding around him but is by the end desperate to immerse himself in them (although we suspect that he never will be able to). The overall effect is one of a well-constructed poignancy. Yes, there are ambiguities, but none that detract: indeed, these make the connections somehow more real, and so more effective. In life, we can rarely understand all the links between the different but related events we experience but we don’t as a result dismiss them. In time, these often become clearer. So it is here.
As with all the NYT shows, this was devised by the cast under the guidance of two experienced directors. This approach has resulted in an impressive range of performances with each scene seeming to flow naturally from within the actors. At no point did it sag and at no point was I aware of any deficiencies in the ambition or the execution. Many of the cast are accomplished musicians and a range of instruments was used to underline aspects of the narrative to great effect.
The NYT has always been renowned for the quality of its visual theatrics. Even for someone who didn’t understand a word of English, the ensemble effects would be stunning. A rush-hour journey, an airport departure hall, a computer game and the explanation of the workings of the human ear were just four of the themes that were acted out with superb style and no little humour.
The show runs for just under an hour. I would have been happy were it to have been twice the length. Inspiration, execution, humour and musicianship all combined to make this a truly wonderful performance. Catch it if you can…
Of Rags and Bones, the Newbury Youth Theatre’s 2018 production, is suitable for ages 12+. It was premiered at the Newbury Corn Exchange on 28 July and will be performed during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at the Quaker House in Victoria Street at 2.30pm from Monday 6 to Saturday 11 August.