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

SIX the Musical

Six 1

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It was just a month ago that the Spice Girls announced a series of comeback gigs that seemingly sent the music world into a feverish frenzy: Girl Power was back and back with vengeance. However way, way, way before Girl Power was a thing, we had Queen Power in the form of six strong, powerful, inspirational ladies who just so happened to be married to the same man, Henry something or other.

With the exam aiding rhyme of: Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived coursing through your brain from the outset Six bursts into life with the vibrant, ballsy opener Ex-Wives where we are introduced to our six monarchs: Aragon, (Jarneia Richard –Noel) Boleyn, (Millie O’Connell) Seymour, (Natalie Paris) Cleves, (Alexia McIntosh) Howard (Aimie Atkinson) and Parr (Maiya Quansah-Breed. This certainly sets the tone for the evening, there are big tunes, ostentatious costumes, and some seriously sublime and sassy performances.

Six 2

The premise for the show is a simple one, the women want to step out from the shadow of their husband, Henry VIII, with each of them convinced that their story is more interesting than their counterparts. The only way to find out who the ‘Queen Bee’ is, is for each one to tell their story and let the audience decide.

Writers Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss have created a modern masterpiece. Songs weave historical facts with smart, cutting and cheeky lyrics. The show is a hybrid between a traditional musical and what could easily be a huge stadium concert marrying the two together whilst at the same time sending them up in the process. The pair poke fun at the X Factor whilst in addition making some serious points about the media trying to divide strong females instead of encouraging unity and sisterhood.

Six

The all-female cast are on fabulous form with each of them getting their moment in the spotlight. All the ladies demonstrate their huge talent by singing various styles: drawing inspiration from artists such as Beyoncé, Lily Allen, Adele, Britney Spears and Alicia Keys to name but a few. They are supported by a great backing band who perform a wide range of musical genres, from hip-hop, to German techno, with some unique interpretations of Greensleeves thrown in for good measure.

Stand out songs (and believe me it’s difficult to pick as they are all exceptional) are the brilliant and bizarre German electro pop ditty, Haus of Holbein, and the catchy Anna of Cleves solo, Get Down. It’s not all fun and frolics as the Katherine Howard led, All You Wanna Do takes the show into a momentary but necessary dark place, as we vividly realise the abusive treatment she endured, so relevant today with the #meto movement, brilliantly and cleverly performed by Atkinson.

Six 4

This is a fun and enormously entertaining show filled with glitz, glamour, plenty of attitude and more than a razors edge to it, it’s addictive and then some. Whilst sisters may be doing it for themselves isn’t it better when they work to unite, in this case six heads are better than one, even if two of them have been chopped off!

Six is at the Lowry Quays Theatre until 16th December. Tickets available https://thelowry.com/whats-on/six/