RENT – Festival Theatre

Rent returns to the UK stage in a new touring revival to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the show.

The story of Rent and its creator, Jonathan Larson, is rather special. After initially seeking to update Puccini’s ‘La Boheme’, after having the idea planted in his mind by playwright Billy Aronson, Larson began to explore ways in which to make it relevant to modernity. Settling on the name RENT, he decided to replace the shadow of tuberculosis from Puccini’s play with the  threat of AIDS, rife in New York at the time. After several workshops and changes to the script the show was ready to perform in January 1996. Larson actually died on the evening of the final dress rehearsal and never saw his production reach the international acclaim and recognition the show now enjoys.

Today RENT is as relevant and poignant as it was 20 years ago, and still enjoys success wherever it is performed. With several standout songs, the show is one of the strongest modern musicals of the late twentieth century. Personal favourites include Light my Candle, Sante Fe, Seasons of Love and finally Take Me or Leave Me. An extremely talented cast provided well developed characters and fantastic vocals.

Among the several actors whose performances were just incredible; Philippa Stefani (Mimi), and Shanay Holmes (Joanne Jefferson) were both magnetic on stage with stunning solos. Lucie Jones had the role of playing Maureen Johnson, and although her vocals were absolutely breathtaking especially in her a capella solo, Over the Moon, she lacked some of the anger, passion and absurdity that the character demands. Harrison Clark playing Angel was utterly convincing and had several audience members in tears throughout the second half. His onstage relationship with Ryan O’Gorman and Tom Collins was thoroughly convincing and their duets were always emotional and committed. Billy Cullen and Ross Hunter are clearly talented, but Cullen struggled a little with the character of Mark, who has far less interaction with the other characters during the show and takes on more of a narrative/director role.  Cullen needed to bring more intensity to Marks songs in order to make him a little less one dimensional . Similarly Hunter had the vocal range but occasionally felt flat on the anger, grief and guilt that Rogers character demands. However, his final song with Mimi felt heart wrenching and was well executed.

The set, costumes, and lights combined to provide a smooth professional aesthetic. The techno lights in Angel’s final song were fantastic and beautifully used for full effect.

Overall it was an extremely strong production of a classic musical. Always worth catching in the theatre when it comes near you, it is clear RENT will remain a firm favourite amongst theatre goers and the young generation.

4stars. Solid execution of a classic. Emotional and passionate.


RENT is on at the Festival Theatre until the 18th February.

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