La vie Bohème! I can’t believe it’s been nearly 30 years since the rock musical RENT hit the stage and almost 20 years from the film version. But have the much-loved Bohemians stood the test of time and managed to still be relevant now in 2023? Let’s find out, because once again, RENT is due.
A solid rendition of the much-loved musical
I’ve seen RENT on Broadway and the West-end, watched the film atleast a dozen times, and even bought the sound track. So, you could say I’m a bit of a fan. RENT brought Puccini’s 1896 opera La Bohème to the harsh reality of ´90s New York, where poverty, homelessness, drugs and AIDS plagued everyday citizens. Where people lived in tent cities or squats while 'yuppies' dreamed of shiny cyberland studios in Manhattan's East Village Alphabet City. Where there is no day but today.
Established in 2017, the local Bare Productions provides inclusive opportunities to people in Edinburgh to improve their dancing, vocal and acting skills. This has obviously paid off as the casting and skill level in their production of RENT is impeccable. The cast attack RENT furiously, unapologetic, heads held high in defiance. Directing a cult musical like RENT is a daunting task. Creative Director Dominic Lewis and Musical Director Finlay Turnbull play it safe by following the original play note by note in bringing us the iconic story of love, individuality and living in the moment.
All main cast members are easily recognisable. Mark with his beloved camcorder, Roger and Mimi struggling with their excess baggage, Maureen and Joanne at each other’s throats, Benny being his sleazy self, and the two lovebirds Angel and Collins. When Collins asks: ‘Are we a thing?’, Angel replies: ‘Darling, we are everything’. There were no weak links here as the whole cast embodied their characters meticulously.
Ethan Baird made a believable narrator Mark, and the chemistry between Nick Tomlinson’s Roger and Freya Rivero’s Mimi was electrifying. They were the true stars of the show stealing the limelight from Angel, played by Rory McKeon and Collins, played by Andrew Gardiner. The ensemble deserves a special praise sending shivers down my spine in every chorus. The Augustine United Church is the perfectly gothic backdrop for RENT with its withering condition and the mouldy smell of bohemia in the auditorium. Unfortunately, the performance space affected the live band, leaving the sound somewhat muffled.
The ultimate test for any RENT remake is the Tear-o-meter; its ability to make people tear up. If you’ve seen RENT, you know what I mean. There are two scenes that do it for me: Angel’s memorial service and Mimi’s miraculous recovery in Roger’s arms. The Bare Productions’ rendition managed a solid ‘misty eyes’ score, but avoided the ‘full-blown bawl’. The same goes with other viewers as hankies were passed on frequently. I concluded that most of my emotions were evoked by nostalgia, not necessarily the show itself, if it makes any difference.
This production of RENT is a solid rendition of the much-loved musical. To truly stand out, it needs a touch of originality. Some of the material seems a bit outdated, so perhaps nudging it towards 2023, would have revitalised it. Since the talent is obviously there, the cast could tear up the original a bit. The music is still timeless, or perhaps I’m just stuck in the ’90s. RENT is once again reminding us to measure life, not in years or minutes, but in love. That message hasn’t aged a day.