Rent

Rent is most notable for the death of its author, Jonathan Larson, the night before the off-Broadway premiere, but owes its longevity to its mould-breaking style; described once as a ‘musical for the MTV generation’. It is an unashamedly bold musical that is based on Puccini’s La Bohème. But the grandeur of 1830 Paris is replaced with a gritty, contemporary New York. And not the nice bit either. Narration is provided by Mark, a struggling filmmaker. He puts the people around him in his documentary charting their progress over a year. His flatmate is Roger, a HIV positive musician who falls for their junkie neighbour, Mimi. Their best friend is Collins, a gay anarchist who finds his love interest in Angel, a drag queen who patches him up after being mugged on Christmas Eve. Mark’s ex-girlfriend is an experimental performance artist, now shacked up with lesbian lawyer Joanne. Completing the picture is Benny Coffin, previous flatmate of Roger and Mark, but now their landlord following his ‘sell-out’ marriage to a yuppie heiress. Despite their obvious hardship, lack of funds for basics like heat and living the shadow of AIDS, these characters maintain a strong sense of defiant optimism throughout.EUSOG are exuberant in their delivery of this show at The Merchant Hall. Set in an appropriately industrial looking landscape, director Nina Logue avoids many of the usual flaws of a student production to present a ballsy, complex and near professional-quality show that makes excellent use of the three-dimensional space. The cast immerse you in the emotion, and it is powerfully challenging to witness everyone from lead to chorus singing Larson’s politically-charged lyrics with a conviction that clearly shows they believe these words. They’re not just remembering the score. In particular I make mention of Greg McCafferty as Collins and Ali Watt as Roger. McCafferty has a wonderful tone to his voice which is a pleasure to listen to, and Watt is such a natural at this game I would not be surprised to see him on a West End stage in the future. But that’s not diminish the fine work of the other performers on stage such as Jimi Mitchell as Angel or Stephanie Baillie as Mimi. At times, however, the show is underpowered. It is timid where it should roar, but this is probably a product of watching the first night performance, and given a week to find their confidence the director will be trying to restrain the band and singers so they may last out the month. Go see it, but be quick. The first night was already pretty jam-packed, so you may need to fight for a ticket.

Reviews by Pete Shaw

Assembly George Square Studios

The House

★★★★★
theSpace on the Mile

Grace Notes

★★★
Greenwich Theatre

The Jungle Book

★★★
Greenwich Theatre

A Midsummer Night's Dream

★★★★
Multiple Venues

A Spoonful Of Sherman

★★★★★
Pleasance Theatre

Assassins

★★★★

The Blurb

Following 2008's acclaimed production of 'Company' -***** (Scotsman) EUSOG present the Pulitzer Prize-winning 'Rent', a rock opera following a group of bohemian artists in 1980s New York, struggling to cope with life, love and AIDS. www.rentfringe.co.uk