RENT

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

The Secret Society of Leading Ladies

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Almost a year since theatres went dark due to the Coronavirus pandemic the innovation and commitment to making art for audiences continues to shine.

Using online platforms, theatres across the country have been creating incredible and varied content offering theatregoers access to performances despite the current challenges.

The Barn Theatre have taken this online streaming approach a step further with their latest offering, ‘The Secret Society of Leading Ladies’. This impressive piece of theatre marries an online concert with ‘Choose Your Player’ computer game style technology allowing audiences to curate their very own theatre experience.

Conceived and directed by the Barn Theatre’s Ryan Carter, the concert offers a showcase for the archetypes of Female Musical Character, one moment you are in blissful harmony with princesses and dreamers the next divas and infamous villains demand your attention, the choice is entirely yours.

I chose to begin my experience with the sublime voice of Jarnéia Richard-Noel singing a defiant and celebratory version of ‘I Didin’t Plan It’ from Waitress, next up was a note perfect performance of the beautiful ‘Journey To The Past’ from Anastasia by Lauren Byrne. After Byrne’s emotive number I decided to introduce some sass with Ellie Mitchelle’s delicious performance of When You’re Good to Mama’ from Chicago.

Next came a real highlight of the experience for me with Jocasta Almgill’s personality packed performance of ‘Everybody’s Girl’ from Steel Pier, hugely entertaining and fantastically delivered. My final selection was Emma Kingston’s stunning version of ‘Dyin Aint So Bad’ from Bonnie and Clyde, her striking vocals left me wanting more, thankfully the finale of ‘Big Finish’ gave me just that with a superb ensemble number where each of the leading ladies had the chance to take centre stage, uplifting, joyous and entirely fitting to bring this glittering showcase to a close.

The performances alone are knockout, the variety a joy but in addition to this the ladies interact with each other in between numbers cementing this format as one of the most innovative you’re likely to see. A truly unique and hugely entertaining offering.

The Secret Society of Leading Ladies is running online from Monday 22 February until Sunday 7th March, tickets available via https://barntheatre.org.uk/barn-at-home

RENT

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

When Hope Mill Theatre announced their summer revival of RENT back in January the buzz about the show quickly engulfed social media; this felt like the most perfect choice for the boundary-pushing, award-winning theatre. Punchy, loud, proud and fuelled by hope, RENT was swiftly propelled into many a ‘must-see list’; billed as the show we all needed in our lives, then…well we all know what happened next.

While the pandemic closed theatres across the country, devastating the Arts, Hope Mill Theatre never lost faith that their much-anticipated production would play to audiences this year. Safeguards were made to film the production should the worst-case scenario of a second lockdown happen and so unbelievably we find ourselves at the show’s official opening which heartbreakingly is also its closing.

The exposed brickwork and anti-Reagan graffiti of David Woodhead’s set transports us to Manhattan’s East Village where a group of young, penniless bohemians strive to live, love and create underneath the looming shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As the devastation and desperation increases so does their sense of family and the ultimate need to make a lasting mark on the world before their lights are extinguished.

Director Luke Sheppard and his team of creatives have truly embraced this piece resulting in a bold, dynamic and meticulously crafted production. The love bursts from each character while their palpable desperation combined with a spirit of defiance is as heart-breaking as it is heart-warming. There is an undeniable sense of urgency; these are stories that need to be told, experiences that need to be shared and a love that needs to be felt.

The cast sit around the stage throughout, feeling and experiencing the heartache, pain and joy of each other’s stories. Touch is infrequent, marked by a fizz of electricity as Howard Hudson’s light design flickers in reaction, making those infrequent yet delicious moments all the more powerful.

Tom Francis makes an incredible stage debut as Roger, his strong swagger is ripped away as his fear of dying takes hold, cradled collectively by the soothing ensemble of resolute voices. Blake Patrick Anderson’s Mark has a quirky sweetness, hiding behind his camcorder in a bid to save him from connecting too deeply thus exposing him to ultimate loneliness while ex-housemate Benny (Ahmed Hamad) plays a strong enemy to the bohemian life he once embraced.

Mimi’s (Maiya Quansah-Breed) strutting and sass is replaced by a heart-breaking vulnerability while Maureen (Millie O’Connell) and Joanne’s (Jocasta Almgill) fractious relationship bubbles and simmers throughout. Deeply entwined in the story is the moving relationship between HIV positive Angel (Alex Thomas-Smith) and older lover Collins (Dom Hartley-Harris) their purity and commitment to each other brings heartening joy to the piece while Hartley-Harris’ delivery of I’ll Cover You – Reprise is gut-wrenchingly brilliant.

RENT is truly an ensemble piece and is at it’s most powerful when this talented cast together with outstanding featured ensemble members Kayla Carter, Allie Daniel, Isaac Hesketh and Bethany Terry unite to deliver Larson’s anthemic score. From the iconic Seasons of Love to the stirring No Day But Today the sheer brilliance of this production envelopes you entirely. Tom Jackson Greaves’ choreography adds an edgy punch while Musical Supervisor Katy Richardson ensures the pounding score will long echo after the curtain comes down

While 2020 has been a year of unprecedented heartbreak and bitter disappointments this incredible piece stands proud, shouting from the rooftop for all to hear, not only is RENT viable it is vital; it’s pounding energy combined with gut-wrenching optimism confirming to all that the show most definitely MUST go on.

Rent is available to view online on selected dates from Friday 27th November until Sunday 20th December booking is essential tickets available via https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/rent-online