Like many other who had pulled out all the stops to get live theatre going again, The Hope Mill Theatre’s production of Rent had its plans scuppered by the second national lockdown. But if this long, hard year has proven anything, it’s that the theatre industry never stops fighting. Within a couple of days, the production was filmed and plans to stream the show were full steam ahead. Thanks to their hard work, we were able to enjoy this beautiful and enthralling production from the comfort of our own homes.
Rock musical Rent tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to get by and create a life for themselves in the thriving days of the bohemian alphabet city, blighted by overdue rent, career troubles and the heartbreaking diagnosis of HIV/AIDS. With book, music and lyrics by the late Jonathan Larson, Rent has gone on to win countless awards, been performed all over the world and become a classic since its premiere in 1996.
The company of 12 (who all joined one bubble in order to make this production possible) fizz with energy, passion and emotion as these well developed, complex and at times outlandish characters. Blake Patrick Anderson delights as frustrated young film maker Mark, acting almost as the narrater of the piece. His performance of ‘Tango:Maureen’ alongside Jocasta Almgill’s fierce Joanne is particularly impressive. Millie O’Connell’s Maureen brings a dose of comedy, even though I didn’t have a clue what she was going on about in ‘Over The Moon’
Alex Thomas Smith and Dom Hartley-Harris make a lovely pairing as Angel and Collins, with Smith raising the roof with their rendition of ‘Today 4 U’ and Hartley-Harris breaking hearts with his ‘I’ll Cover You (Reprise)’. Maiya Quansah-Breed impresses as the troubled Mimi, full of excitement and mischief no matter what the character is going through. In his professional debut, Tom Francis shines as Roger, a musician desperate to make his mark on the world before his time is up. With vocals and emotion in perfect balance, this young talent certainly has a bright future ahead of him.
The design of this production allows a lot to happen in a relatively small place, with David Woodhead’s set and costume design suitably grungy and detailed. Tom Jackson Greave’s choreography shines in this production with a number of great dance moments, especially in the impressive ‘La Vie Boheme’.
Rent boasts a rather long song list, with 43 musical numbers in total. In this mostly sung through production, each song flows into the next pretty seamlessly. That being said, I can’t help but feel that a little bit more dialogue would have helped with context in places as I found myself a little confused at times. Whilst the show flowed nicely with plenty of action and drama, I have to be a little bit picky and admit that I am not a huge fan of the use of handheld microphones. For me, it breaks the fourth wall and brings me back to reality, distracting me from the story.
To conclude, this production of Rent from Hope Mill Theatre features some incredible performances from its exceptional cast who bring this small venue to life with all the thrills of live theatre. With impressive vocals throughout, this show is an emotional rollercoaster and I am sure that it will be back as soon as possible.