Author Matthew W Harrill

RENT

RENT

Rondo Theatre Bath

Saturday February 29th.

The one with the Summary:

And so the simple joy of watching people portray others continues with RENT. ‘Not Another Theatre Company’ have once again successfully transmuted the limited stage size that comes with performing in this quirky and very cosy theatre, transporting us to New York City.

Loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Boheme”, RENT tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive the 90s and create a life in Lower Manhattan’s East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.

RENT was an overnight sensation on Broadway ultimately winning four Tony Awards, six Drama Desk Awards and the hugely prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It ran on Broadway for an astonishing 12 years though its opening night was tainted with sadness as composer Jonathan Larson died suddenly the night before its premier. His amazing legacy lives on in the music and the lives of Roger, Mark, Mimi, Joanne, Maureen, Angel, Collins and Benny and unforgettable songs like SEASONS OF LOVE, ONE SONG GLORY, RENT, LIGHT MY CANDLE, I’LL COVER YOU, ANOTHER DAY and many others.

In short, for the uninitiated, RENT is Friends. The one where Rachel left Ross for Phoebe. The one where Chandler and Joey’s bromance became romance. And I hasten to add, The one where I’ve sung one of its songs at a wedding!

The one with the Cast:

From left to right: Mark U, Sam (front), Louise, Amy, Rachel, Isabella, Ollie(front), George, Kevin (back), Lesley (front), Pip, Anne-Marie (front), Mark S, Stewart, Alison

  • George Miles – Roger Davis
  • Mark Sellick – Mark Cohen
  • Pip Knowles – Tom Collins
  • Kevin Hodges – Benjamin Coffin III
  • Amy Neal – Joanne Jefferson
  • Ollie Woodhouse – Angel Dumott Schunard
  • Isabella Cosh – Mimi Marquez
  • Rachel Sellick – Maureen Johnson
  • Alison Cobb – Mark’s Mom, Vendor, Steph and others
  • Anne-Marie Williams – Alexi Darling, A junkie and others
  • Lesley Moodie – Cot, Junkie and others
  • Louise Couzens – Woman with bags, Junkie and others
  • Mark Unwin – Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Grey, Cop, Christmas Caroler and others
  • Sam Thorp – Mrs. Jefferson, Roger’s Mom, Vendor and others
  • Stewart Osgood  – Gordon, The Man, Pastor, Squeegee Man, Waiter and others.

In three words. What. A. Cast.

The one with opinions (and a coat hanger)

So an important thing to note was that this writer had never seen, nor barely even heard of RENT. So a great deal of importance was given to working out what was going on. I actually ignored the lure of the internet on purpose just so I could ask myself the question ‘Can the cast portray the story to me and allow me to make my own conclusions?’ The answer was a resounding yes.

From before the start, the audience felt part of the show as the cast wandered around the stage, Roger tinkering with his guitar, Joanne and Maureen having some ass-slapping fun, other characters very preoccupied with posters. And even this writer felt part of the set – 6 foot 3 and on the front row. These feet were made for trying to keep out the way of the actors. Really. They were that in the way.  The musicians were cleverly hid in and around the scenery, really the only way they could be included, but at the same time it gave them the appearance of some sort of street band rather than to accompany the songs. They became the scenery.

And this is the great thing about the Rondo Theatre and such productions. The audience being part of the scenery, voluntarily or not. I’ve seen it increasingly over the years (London Old Vic does it particularly well), and ‘NATC’ love to get up close and personal with ingeniously-designed sets. With a decent sized cast you cant help but feel involved. And with RENT, not only do you feel involved, you very quickly begin to care.

See, RENT is about relationships, a great tangled web of them. Most poignant in the show are the relationships between Mimi and Roger (Isabella and George), and Collins and Angel (Pip and Ollie). The interaction between each member of the respective pairs was so genuine, so at ease were the actors in their roles, one could be forgiven for thinking they were actually real. Pip Knowles in particular produced a polished performance, and the air of innocence portrayed by Ollie Woodhouse in a role that was anything but, was nonetheless delightful and very endearing. You have multiple gay love stories, as well as the central straight relationship. While back when this was released, this might have been a little more ground breaking, in today’s environment, it’s all a little more commonplace. As such, the most scandalous moment (for some) was the baring of the directors’ buttocks.

Special mention must be made for Mark Sellick’s ‘Mark’, who narrated and pulled the story along, as well as Rachel Sellick’s lunatic portrayal of Maureen. What a character. Finally, I must note Amy Neal, and her steadfast and committed performance of Joanne. Committed because of the nature of the relationship with Maureen, and steadfast because the poor woman is quite familiar with this writer’s scoundrel-like and whimsical nature. Having had to perform right in front of me, she was determined to NOT look down and become put off. Can’t blame her.

The songs were all flawless, George Miles in particular possessing a powerful set of lungs. For me the songs were most effective with multi-point harmonies, and with a cast this size, there were a lot of them.

The one with the conclusion.

I had no expectations going into RENT, since I had no previous exposure to it. There were a lot of laughs, many tears, and a cast that visibly loved performing with each other. In the  end, the story said ‘you can be what you want to be, no questions asked’. It was slick in its’ production, and the unique humour of director Rachel Sellick shone through from beginning to end. I loved it.

By the way, if you want to see what someone who has given their ALL to their craft looks like….

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