Sunday 18 December 2016

Rent - Review

St James Theatre, London


Music, lyrics and book by Jonathan Larson
Directed by Bruce Guthrie

The cast of Rent

This 20th anniversary production of Rent is a heart wrenching piece of theatre that beautifully touches on the key themes of love, loss, addiction and the fear of living as HIV positive. It is engaging, touching and thought provoking.

Performed countless times across the globe, Rent can often descend into a self-indulgent performers’ showcase. Bruce Guthrie's take on the show however is heavy on integrity, with the director exploring the psyche of each character, making the performances both believable and relatable. Alongside, Lee Proud's mesmerizing choreography fits perfectly with both style and era.

Amidst a stark and rough scaffolding-based set and with the full orchestra on display, Anna Fleischle's designs create an edgy feel that is aesthetically challenging, leaving one to focus on the drama.

Mark Cohen as played by Billy Cullen is beautifully watchable, embodying his character's drive to succeed in his work but also constantly sending out the signals of his desperate need to be accepted by his friends. Ross Hunter's silky, effortless vocals as Rodger Davies are a joy. His performance engages throughout, convincing in the chemistry that sparkles between him and Philippa Stefani's Mimi. Stefani may have just transferred over from In the Heights but here she's a completely different woman, displaying a stunning depth and emotional range. Her unravelling on stage is almost elegant, depicting her character's agonising flaws as she struggles with her addiction and its dangers.

Lucie Jones' Maureen is an unconventional gem. Her cooky, charismatic and confident charm is so suited to the character that she doesn't struggle once to deliver on Maureen's obvious sexuality and allure. As always, Take Me Or Leave Me brings the house down with stunning vocals from both Jones and Shanay Holmes as Joanne. Their delivery is entirely narrative driven rather than just being the shouting match that the number can so often suggest, as they make the song an intimate and passionate breakdown of a relationship between two fiery women.

Now virtually sold out in London, the production is soon to tour and for both Rent-heads and newbies it's a treat. The entire company are outstanding - vocally, choreographically and emotionally.

Reviewed by Charlotte Darcy
Runs until 28th January 2017 - Then on tour. Tour details here
Photo credit: Johan Persson

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