Where does one begin with the explosion of phenomenal I witnessed on the 3rd January. Rent currently showing at St. James Theatre is a MUST SEE. With it being understandably sold out at St.James theatre, I can only recommend finding your next local theatre and to BOOK as soon as possible.
Rent centres on a group of friends living a Bohemian lifestyle in New York City. We follow this group for a year as they deal with love and loss; with AIDS and sexuality being a recurring theme throughout. For those who have never attended, St. James Theatre is an intimate venue with a steep seating area that forces you to pay attention. However paying attention was not an issue with this production. With a combination of the specific direction of Bruce Guthrie and the fearless choreography of Lee Proud – I found myself wanting more when it ended.
Like most productions of Rent, the set (as seen below) is a rustic interpretation of a minimalistic lifestyle. However in other productions I have only ever seen wider and sturdier ladders connecting the two height-separated playing areas. In this case the narrow rope-like ladders added an element of danger; whilst almost creating this military feel, emphasised by some of Proud’s, staccato and isolated choreography. At times the characters would run up these ladders with this burst of energy often missing a few steps. When coming down the same way, there were times I wondered whether the performers felt fear running so carelessly. However I enjoyed the fact I couldn’t sense this fear. It allowed me to buy into this dangerous lifestyle that these characters had all become accustomed to. Creating this idea that these characters have been living rough and minimalistic so long that they were now motivated by this fear. Fear had become timeless to them.
The lighting plot is also commendable. Whilst remaining minimalistic in a cold lighting state throughout the majority of the production, it allowed for any abrupt change to really change the atmosphere as beautifully shown in Angel’s death.
Like any musical a huge factor is the music. Rent for me has always been a production where listening to cast recording isn’t even comparable to watching it live. Whilst listening to Rents cast recordings hasn’t been a particular favourite of mine, I would prefer watching the production over a lot of shows whose cast recordings I listen to regularly. The live music, is a breathtaking experience. With many of its songs relying on ensemble – the blend of harmonies that transfer are amazing. The live Band for this production were situated upper Stage Right and were actually incredibly loud. Being so close to the stage I found hearing the cast incredibly easy but at times, admittedly it was a battle of voices verses band. For me personally I enjoyed the loudness, everything was so in your face mirroring the traits of the more flamboyant characters like Maureen and Angel. However I do not know how this would be if your hearing wasn’t as good or you were seated further back.
Anybody who has watched Rent, be it a live or filmed production will know there are particular moments that demand to be felt. However without the right people in charge of orchestrating this, it doesn’t always happen. Therefore I can not continue without mentioning Philippa Stefani (Mimi) and Ryan O’ Gorman (Collins). O’Gorman’s I’ll cover you (reprise) deserved a standing ovation. I try to detach from becoming too emotional in any production, reminding myself this isn’t real. Whether O’ Gorman used something personal to orchestrate that raw emotion – I do not know, but it was very much real. Similarly Stefani at the end of Goodbye Love had me welling up openly. It was almost draining to see the pain her character was in. So I couldn’t even imagine how draining it must be to create that pain for every show; how beautifully dangerous.
Layton Williams (Angel) was everything I wanted Angel to be and more. Casting someone with such an impressive dancing range was fantastic to witness. When he flipped off the stage I actually whispered to myself ‘Stop showing off now’. He created Angel to have the right amount of warmth, beauty and fight. Angel was instantly likeable and looking around the audience area I could see everybody else’s smile mirroring my own whenever Angel was present. One thing I did notice is I didn’t feel initially sad during her death. Instead I was in awe and completely engrossed by the physical score surrounding it. I don’t know if this was the intention. Perhaps to make the audience feel impartial to any emotion during the death so we became completely emotional after it.
Lucie Jones interpretation of Maureen was more erratic than I had anticipated. To use in colloquial terms ‘she was nuts’. I liked that. I didn’t know if Jones was erratic or Maureen was, either way it worked for me. This was matched well with Shanay Holmes regimented interpretation of Joanne. In fact I couldn’t argue a single casting decision and felt everybody had been cast so well. Billy Cullum (Mark) was loveable. Unlike interpretations I’ve seen, this production is not heavily focussed around Mark. There is an equal amount of time spent on each of these characters. I have to applaud Proud again for his choreography in the Tango Maureen. To have both Cullum and Holmes Tango throughout their interaction was slightly comical and equally impressive. Cullums comical timing is excellent. I imagine Mark was never written as a funny character. But Cullums own choices based heavily on his fluctuation of tone would at times have the audience laughing where I imagine he wouldn’t have even planned. Ross Hunter (Roger), portrayed the secluded lone wolf that is Roger very well. His acting for me was a stand out – everything seemed natural and he did not do anything just because. Every choice was reasoned and incredibly naturalistic. I found I didn’t dislike Benny, played by Javar Parker as much as I wanted to. Benny’s character for those who have never watched, is a past friend of the group; who moved up in the world. He is almost a physical symbol of gentrification. I found that I wanted a better balance between hating him for forgetting his friends and understanding he still cared about his friends. But instead I liked him throughout and never felt any sense of anger or anything negative toward him at all. The Ensemble was ridiculously good. In fact whilst watching I found myself consciously casting understudy’s. Jenny O’Leary and Bobbie Little were stand outs. They were fantastic in Seasons of Love and in many different roles throughout.
Overall, I can’t express how much I enjoyed it. The direction was flawless. Everything was specific, justified and clean. The choreography was inspired – I truly witnessed a collaboration of triple threats in action. The pre-show however was slightly ambiguous and I think it could have done without. And I wanted a little more at the end, I left emotional and I almost wanted to leave on a happier note. Perhaps Seasons of love sang again with clapping encouraged from the audience would have been a better spirit to leave with. The show itself can’t be faulted, after I post this I intend on searching for tickets to watch again elsewhere.
Rent will be playing at St. James Theatre until the 28th January and will be transferring next to Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne [31st JAN – 4th FEB]! Grab your tickets as I am in no doubt they will sell out everywhere shortly!
Written by MTAS Admin:
@SimplyWilly for @MTAS_Official