Rent is an iconic piece of musical theatre originally produced in the 1990s. With book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson, it was intended to be a retelling of the opera La Bohème set in modern day New York. Stories of love, tragedy and revolution are intertwined to highlight a changing world in which Aids and drugs so commonly take lives.
Unfortunately Paul Taylor-Mills' production of Rent at the Greenwich Theatre fails to capture the essence of what Jonathan Larson created and, instead, has moments when you feel that you are watching the Glee version of the musical.
There are some strong performances from the principal cast. Gary Wood as Angel is one to watch for the future. He fully inhabits his role giving a ‘real’ portrayal of one of Larson’s characters. Benjamin Stratton as film-maker Mark also gives us a believable performance and has a good singing voice. Overall, the vocals are excellent throughout from Mikel Sylvanus as Collins, Jamie Birkett as Joanne, Zoe Birkett as Maureen and Steph Fearon as Mimi. Being the most well-known members of the cast, Zoe Birkett and Steph Fearon are obviously both talented performers but neither achieve a fully rounded characterisation.
On a simple but effective set from David Shields, there are too many members of the ensemble which makes the company numbers messy and distracting, and smacks, at times, of a stage school production where everyone has to get a chance to perform. The audience should feel a sense of desolation and desperation in which the characters of the piece battle to survive against the odds. However, the overwhelming nature of the ensemble and the unrealistic energy they generate detract from what is, at its heart, a powerful depiction of a real time in modern history.
As is often the problem with musical theatre productions with rock scores, the sound is at times unbalanced with the principals struggling to be heard over the band but credit goes to Huw Evans and Tom Turner for the aforementioned strong vocal performances.
Overall, I left this production of Rent feeling unsatisfied, wondering if it is still too soon to be performed without it feeling dated and not quite old enough to be revived.
- Andrew Roach
Photo: Benjamin Stratton as Mark and Edward Handoll as Roger (Claire Bilyard)