Reviewed by Nikki Cotter
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
9 months after its original opening night which heartbreakingly coincided with the eve of the 2nd national lockdown it’s fair to say the cast, crew and creatives of Rent have never given up hope that their show would be seen by live audiences; cue a weekend of sell-out previews followed by a spectacular gala night, confirming that Rent is back, with renewed passion, urgency, and an overwhelming sense of triumph.
This gritty rock musical, set in New York’s East Village introduces us to a group of bohemian artists who despite their daily struggles, battle through life with determination and heart, strengthened by a deep-seated love and genuine friendship which connects them wholeheartedly. They too are living through unprecedented times as the AIDS epidemic sweeps through their streets and the elite want them cleared out of the neighbourhood.
Director Luke Sheppard and his team have created a truly mesmerising production, adding depth and energy to characters many musical theatre fans feel they know so well. The passion and thrill at being back on stage radiates from each performer with Tom Jackson Greaves’ punchy choreography offering a physical outlet for their frustrations as they fiercely defend their right to be heard. Similarly Musical Supervisor Katy Richardson and Musical Director Chris Poon ensure that familiar pounding score is note perfect while David Woodhead’s set and costume design paired with Howard Hudson’s lighting transports us to the atmospheric streets of New York.
Luke Bayer sets the tone right from the start as Mark, and angst filled filmmaker whose energy never wanes. Kooky and complex his video camera acting as a safety blanket protecting him from connecting too deeply and exposing his lonely reality.
Tom Francis is sensational as Roger, his rock God-like swagger draws you in while his brooding vulnerability catches you completely off-guard. His scenes with Maiya Quansah-Breed are simply beautiful, the two manage to make you feel like you’re observing a couple’s private moments; so in tune with each other are they. They draw out every ounce of emotion from their scenes, taking you along on their impassioned journey.
The deeply moving relationship between Angel and Collins which weaves through the storyline is both joyful and devastating in equal measure. Hartley-Harris’ delivery of I’ll Cover You – Reprise is breathtakingly beautiful while Alex Thomas-Smith’s Angel is pure perfection.
Cutting through the intensity is Millie O’Connell’s, Maureen who bickers and squabbles with girlfriend Joanne (Jocasta Almgill) throughout, her delivery of Over The Moon is hilarious. Both O’Connell and Almgill give their characters real strength, authenticity and bucketloads of personality while their rich vocals deliver some killer harmonies.
Michael Ahomka-Lindsay ensures Benny is seen as more than just a former friend turned landlord as his connection to the group warms and solidifies. Completing the casting is the featured ensemble who add bite and pure passion to the production; Issac Hesketh, Alison Driver, Iona Fraser, Joe Foster and Karl Lankester’s versatility and skill really authenticates this production as a true ensemble piece.
There is a strong sense of coming together in the face of adversity which drives the show, something we can all relate to given recent testing times. The poignancy of the piece truly connecting with the audience in the intimacy of the former cotton mill. The full ensemble pieces are thrilling, intimate and bursting with life while the stripped back moments are spine-tinglingly perfect.
At a time when theatre needs as much support as possible Rent is leading the charge for Hope Mill Theatre’s Covid recovery proving entirely that there’s nothing quite like the thrill of live theatre. Proud, punchy and powerful, Rent has it all!
Rent is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Sunday 19th September, tickets available now https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/rent