WORTH A LOOK?: *****
WHEN?: Via recorded live performance 29/11/20, running to 20/12/20
WHERE?: Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
We first saw Rent when it arrived with a fanfare in London’s West End in the late 90s – and left disappointed.
- Read on for reasons including why this production by & Juliet‘s director is the 1 to catch
It had sounded so promising particularly as it was described as young, fresh and gay friendly which was especially important to anyone coming out at that time when the threat of AIDS featured in the plot couldn’t have felt more real.
At that time we hadn’t seen Puccini’s La Bohème, on which Rent is based, and had never been to New York.
The story felt too complicated with far too many characters and although we empathised with the character of Mark (here given life by 1 of theatre’s brightest rising stars, Blake Patrick Anderson) we wanted something more for him than the storyline with which he is ascribed.
For us Rent is a love story although there is a lot going on as it is set in New York in the 90s within a group of impoverished young artists who live under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.
Jonathan Larson wrote the music, lyrics and book and, to add to the tragedy of the piece, died the day before the 1st preview after suffering an aortic dissection caused by undiagnosed Marfan syndrome.
Rent is a rock musical, never our favourite genre, and reminds of Les Miserables because there are so many songs but we would argue that it takes far more immersion to get the most from it.
Anderson’s Mark is a filmmaker who lives with rock songwriter Roger (newcomer Tom Francis impressing) who meets Mimi, an erotic dancer with HIV. Ahmed Hamad injects some villainy.
The lyrics are smart (‘Sodomy? It’s between God and me.’) and the themes of homelessness and gentrification still ring true now.
This production was pulled together by & Juliet’s director Luke Sheppard and is particularly well filmed and cast. The cast and crew formed a bubble to get it made during COVID-19 and it was in previews for 5 shows before England’s 2nd lockdown meant the curtain had to come down on it but not without this film being made.
Ensemble members Kayla Carter and Allie Daniel (the film of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie) catch the eye. Millie O’Connell as performance artist Maureen and Jocasta Almgill as her girlfriend convince.
If we had a little criticism it would be that Maiya Quansah-Breed feels a little too together as Mimi, while Alex Thomas-Smith’s Angel is a little underpowered. Although 3 years ago we had seen a touring production in which a pre-Everybody’s Talking About Jamie Layton Williams bossed that part.
Seasons Of Love is the big hit from the show but for us the stand-out moments here were the Anderson-led cast showstopper La Vie Boheme and emotional I’ll Cover You (Reprise) brilliantly sung by Dom Hartley-Harris.
It took us more than 20 years from seeing it originally but we finally got the most out of Rent thanks to a well cast production that not even a pandemic could stop.
- Picture by Pamela Raith via Facebook courtesy Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester Tickets
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