This year marks the 20th anniversary of Jonathan Larson’s Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning musical Rent. Inspired by Puccini’s opera La Boheme, it is the story of a group of young people in New York who are facing a multitude of issues such as drugs, AIDS, love and loss.
What’s special about the Old Rep’s production of Rent is that it is staged completely by people from the area of Birmingham, every member of the cast has a strong connection to the city which emphasises the importance of showcasing home grown talent in the local area. As the Old Rep theatre are beginning to enhance the amount of self produced shows they put on, they have seized the opportunity to revive such a poignant musical.
Being an smaller theatre, Rent is excellently suitable as the intensity and grit of the themes in the show are amplified by the intimacy of the space. Using scaffolding to frame the stage, the set appears mechanical creating contemporary feel that echoes the urban city lifestyle that is reflected in the production. This is echoed in Charlie Morgan Jones’ lighting design which uses strong lighting contrasts to emulate the emotions running through the show.
The show opened tremulously as the sound system let down the production, with a talented cast it is a shame to miss speech and song due to a technical issue. This caused the show to feel slightly sporadic as you were unable to follow the storyline fluidly.
However the cast were highly professional and despite the hiccups they continued competently. Rhys Owen’s interpretation of Collins was different to any I’ve seen before, but he mastered the role convincingly and his solo I’ll Cover You had the audience up on their feet in awe of his emotional dedication to the performance. Similarly I was utterly impressed with Ashleigh Aston’s Maureen, she exudes the feisty nature of the role and her fearless attitude had the audience encapsulated during her solo number Over The Moon that is performed in the style of a monologue.
Aston’s chemistry with her girlfriend Joanna played by Sophie Poulton is fervent, their duet Take Me Or Leave Me has fierce passion and is vocally first-class as their voices blend impeccably. A stand out member of the cast is Jessica Singer who plays the vivaciously sultry Mimi, she performs her solo number Out Tonight with dynamic characterisation.
Despite the sound issues, particularly with the balance in sound with the band and vocals, when the cast come together in the ensemble numbers their performance is truly remarkable. Opening the second act with the iconic Seasons Of Love, their harmonies are tight and potently strong, creating a touching performance.
Rent is a thought-provoking production with a powerful message that is performed by a cast with superb talent but are sadly let down by poor sound management, something that will hopefully be rectified in future performances.
Rent is on at the Old Rep Theatre until the 30th of July and tickets can be found here.