Devonshire Park Theatre | 31st Jan – 4th Feb
On the way to the Devonshire Park Theatre last night my companion asked what she might expect from the musical RENT.
Tricky one… How do you make a musical about Drugs, AIDS and homelessness sound entertaining?
Rent is a rock opera written by Jonathan Larson set over the course of a year in 1990s New York City and is loosely based on Puccini’s more traditional opera La Boheme. Larson died unexpectedly from an unexpected aortic aneurysm at only 35 years old, the day before Rent’s opening night and sadly didn’t get to see how his ground-breaking musical would help define the 1990s.
Facing eviction from their rundown cold attic flat, Mark (Billy Cullum) and his friend Roger (Ross Hunter) are penniless. As a wannabe documentary filmmaker, Mark acts as our narrator as he films life around him, recording the desperation of his friends living with HIV and AIDS and the injustice of society in general. Roger is grieving over the death of his girlfriend but when Mimi (Philippa Stefani) turns up looking for a light for her candle everything changes.
Mark’s ex-girlfriend, the slightly bonkers Maureen is played by our next Eurovision hopeful Lucie Jones who has the most remarkable stage presence. Maureen’s new partner is lawyer Joanne Jefferson played by Shanay Holmes is quite a match for the feisty Maureen and their duet ‘Take Me Or Leave Me’ was a powerhouse performance.
Mark and Roger’s ex-flatmate Tom Collins meets Angel and introduces him to the group of friends. Angel is a drag queen and is the pivotal character in the story bestowing love, optimism and positivity in the dark times and is the glue that comes to bind the friends together. Due to the indisposition of Layton Williams who usually plays Angel, last night this key part was nailed by Harrison Clark who stepped into the role. Clark was born for this role, he was sexy, dynamic and had a huge amount of stage presence beautifully offset by Tom’s loving devotion towards him. Tom is played by Ryan O’Gorman, who gives an incredibly powerful and heart aching performance with his song ‘Without You’ reducing me to tears.
The gritty set seemed very cramped on the stage of the Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne, but this added to the theme of oppression. Ann Flesiscle’s set consisting of rusty scaffolding and grungy furniture gives an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia, yet despite this, the cast use the space well and Lee Proud’s choreography is inspired.
For those unfamiliar with the music, probably the most well-known song in the show is ‘Seasons of Love’, which asks how do you measure a year? The answer is of course not 525,600 minutes, it is indeed love and how the bond of friendship and togetherness is so important.
Despite it’s difficult and painful topics Rent is a truly uplifting musical. With a superbly talented cast and slick direction by Bruce Guthrie makes this indeed a wonderful night out as my companion was happy to concur..
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Reviewer: Sammi O’Neill
Photos: Matt Crockett
“In these dangerous times, where it seems the world is ripping apart at the seams, we can all learn how to survive from those who stare death squarely in the face every day and [we] should reach out to each other and bond as a community, rather than hide from the terrors of life at the end of the millennium.” Jonathan Larson
Rent is playing at:
Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne 31st Jan – 4th Feb Book Tickets here
Churchill Theatre, Bromley 6th – 11th Feb Book Tickets here
The Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells – 23rd – 27th May Book Tickets Here