Like many musical theatre fans, I have a love-hate relationship with
Very impressive for a fringe production
For those not in the know, Rent is a rock musical very loosely based on the Opera La Boheme, moving the action from 19th century Paris to New York in the late 80s/early 90s. Following a year in the life of a group of struggling artists and “Bohemians” through love, loss, drug addiction and the looming Aids crisis that is killing many of our main cast.
Rent’s best asset is its music, fusing rock opera ballads into complicated choral numbers and emotional solos that take you from hysterical laughter to tear filled sobs. Poor performances in a production like this will sink the entire show but here there is no fear of that as the cast rise to the occasion, delivering stirring and impressive turns as our bohemian protagonists. The main cast do a wonderful job in bringing their roles to life, demonstrating the necessary physicality and vocal work whilst backing it up with some incredibly impressive singing. Special mention should go to Stephen Johnson who steals the show as Angel, strutting and flaunting his way across the stage as if he owns the place - which given his impressive vocal performance and dancing he might as well. He is supported by slick and effective performances by the large chorus who all do wonderfully in switching smoothly between the plays smaller characters and lending their voices to soul stirring company numbers.
Technically the show is very impressive for a fringe production, managing to construct a two tiered set the likes of which you’d see on Broadway in the small space without the action on stage ever feeling too cramped or constrained. The lighting and sound design too are slick and do their job in establishing a sense of place and accentuating the mood and feel of each scene.
The production is not perfect however. It never quite rises above the scripts own problems in the fact it is incredibly self righteous and whiney without ever really getting around to addresses the issues it raises. Additionally the cast engage in frequent ad libbing that is done very naturalistically and jars with the heightened stylised nature of the musical and on occasion throws the other actors on stage pace off. Whilst this is a well done production for a fringe running time the fatigue shows on the actors and the energy can dip particularly in the second half, which brings the quality of certain songs down.
This production will not wow over anyone who can’t get over the musical's own problems, and can be shaky in parts, but in the end it is a well done production of a difficult mess of a play that will definitely entertain fans and musical theatre aficionados this festival.