New Victoria Theatre, Woking – until 11 March 2017
Sharp, powerful and moving, Jonathan Larson’s musical is still as relevant as ever as Bruce Gutherie’s heart wrenching production proves from beginning to end. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, RENT is brought to pulsating life once more in Brice Gutherie’s production, which is bitter sweet in tone and leaves you thoughtful about what you have just witnessed.
Loosely based on Puccini’s opera La Boheme, RENT follows a community of artists, all of whom are trying to create a life in New York’s East Village – while living under the shadow and threat of HIV and AIDS. It is not a musical that hides from the big topics, confronting audiences about the threat of this relatively unknown disease at the time it is set (all of the action takes place in the 1980’s) but does so in such a humane way that the audience is immediately drawn into the character’s lives that you feel part of the community itself.
This energetic production as well as having a stunningly talented cast also has a fabulous set designed by Anna Fleischle, which is constantly put to good use and changing the audience’s attention with ease and style, particularly when it comes to upbeat numbers such as ‘Out Tonight’ and ‘Today 4 U’. While many of the songs might not be particularly hummable or memorable – excepting of course ‘Seasons of Love’ and ‘Take Me Or Leave Me’ but lyrically all of the songs perfectly capture and enhance the story.
What Brice Guthrie manages to do with this production is capture the spirit of community, in a similar way the In the Heights by presenting the characters and their stories in such a way that even in the occasional moment of unclarity in the plot the audience is still swept away by what is happening.
Throughout the production, the cast give their all particularly vocally – with not one wrong note to be heard. But particular stand out performances came in the form of Layton Williams as the vibrant and charismatic Angel, who delivers Lee Proud’s choreography with great enthusiasm and astonishing ease and Philippa Stefani as Mimi – whose intense vulnerability endears her to the audience, despite knowing her addiction to drugs. But the rest of the cast were equally strong throughout and there is clearly a strong chemistry between them all that makes the story even more powerful and believable.
There are occasional scenes, particularly in the first act that seem a tad too long and slow down the pace of the show, but this is a minor complaint in a production which delivers plenty of emotion, character development and energy that keeps the audience hooked from beginning to end.