Another stab at Rent

Rent at the Cockpit Theatre

Jonathan Larson’s ever popular musical Rent is effectively revived by Interval Productions. The cast possess an electric energy and are undoubtedly talented, possessing voices that send shivers down spines. The first act may be lost on Rent newbies, but Rent fans out there won’t be disappointed. At the Cockpit Theatre.

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Interval Productions popped my Rent cherry and now I’m hooked. Central to the musical are notions of sexuality and addiction, (you may have noticed this reflected in my oh-so-apt opening line), but there are more current themes at play here, including poverty and homelessness. We intimately follow a group of moneyless youths, forced to squat on account of not being able to pay the rent, simultaneously dodging the authorities due to their somewhat questionable recreational activity. Living under the shadow of HIV/AIDs, sinister undertones dilute the theatrical flair of the piece. One minute you’ll be laughing, the next…

Inspired by Puccini’s La Bohème, Rent demands emotional and physical commitment and directors Timothy O’Hara and Sarah Henley’s production captures the poignancy and the reality of Jonathan Larson’s book and musical score. Originally set in New York in the 1990s, the story carries a timeless quality that is still relevant today.

This is an amateur production but the show embodies nothing other than professionalism. “Amateur” means “for the love of”, and this is clearly reflected via the cast’s passion, energy and commitment to the show. It is made up of professionally trained performers and West End stars and the production values are strong. Any Rent fans out there won’t be disappointed.  

But as well as rave, I must rant. My only criticism – and it’s quite a substantial one – is that I didn’t really have a clue what was going on in the first act. I’m not familiar with the musical; I don’t know the songs and a lot of the lyrics were lost on me. I won’t name names but two actors forming a protagonist couple shout-sung their lines, to the point where it sounded like a showcase of vocal range as opposed to anything else. A couple of actors lack emotional connection and appear significantly weaker than others which is a shame – but considering there are seventeen performers in total, this observation is only a minor glitch. If more effort was taken to ensure the direction and execution made everything a little clearer for those of us not “in the know”, this would have got the fifth star.

The cast are undoubtedly talented, possessing voices that send shivers down spines. As an ensemble, the group have an electric energy. Certain performers stand out, particularly the women; the most watchable being the dynamic duo, Sabrina Aloueche (Les MiserablesWe Will Rock You) as Maureen and Ambra Caserotti as Joanne – and John McCrea as Angel (who is arguably female for the most part of the production). Playing a waif-like drag queen, McCrea somehow manages to inject subtlety into his portrayal, which is thoroughly engaging – quite a feat since this is a character that could easily be dramatically abused! Documentary film-maker, Mark, played by Will Bradnam, confidently carries the show through his lyrical narration.

The supporting ensembles are excellent vocalists and dancers and the choreography by Kamilah Beckles is slick and vibrant. Musical director, Scott Morgan, captures the poignancy of scenes, as well as the pizzazz, drama and “oomph” of the more jazzy numbers.

The design elements are imaginatively conceived. The set design by Naomi Hodgson does its job in portraying a sense of ‘downtown’ and desperate New York. Rent features over forty songs and Christian Czornyj’s sound design seamlessly links the musical numbers, so one can forgive the seldom technical glitch and bumpy sound levels. There is an incredibly talented live band on stage, and the majority of actors are miked up – all in all, a lot to consider as far as sound direction goes!

On top of being a good night out, the musical could be seen to contribute towards societal betterment. The musical raises awareness of society’s lack of knowledge when it comes to the ever-prominent HIV virus. Interval Productions are working with National AIDS Trust to raise money in order to transforming society’s response to HIV – especially in light of the fact that in London alone, the number of people with the infection has doubled in the past decade and forty per cent of people with HIV don’t know they have it.

Frequently revived, I don’t know how I’ve managed to miss out on Rent until now! All in all, I loved the show… go and see it if you can.  

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