Book, Music and Lyrics: Jonathan Larson
Director: Glen Hanmer and Bryan Wood
Reviewer: Paul Jones
Based on Puccini’s La Boheme, Rent is a rock opera about artists, activists, aids sufferers and addicts in 90’s New York. Struggling to make ends-meat and find their identities, they battle against corporations, against illness, against addiction and at times against themselves.
Rent is a show that has a devout fan base, so choosing this as the debut production for new theatre company Dare To Go was always going to be a mountain of a task to undertake. Fortunately directors Glen Hanmer and Bryan Wood have delivered a knock out production. They have squeezed every drop of angst, heartache, humour and love out of each of their performers. This is more than just a showcase of the unique local talent Lancaster has to offer, but a labour of love and dedication.
Robbie Love as Mark serves as our guide narrating events, with his camcorder in hand he invites us in to the world of the East Village, New York with charm, confidence and controlled vocals. Mark is possibly the most seminal rôle in Rent, and Love gives us a personalised performance rather than a replica – which is often so easy to do. Mark shares an apartment with Roger (Neil McKnight) a struggling musician hoping to write one great song before his demons defeat him. McKnight gives a powerhouse performance, his vocal is sublime. From One Song Glory to Your Eyes, songs are suitably delivered with the depth, warmth or gravitas they need.
Claire Savage gives a tender performance as Mimi Marquez, Roger’s love interest. The simplicity of Light My Candle gives Savage the room to grow when singing Out Tonight. The transformation from shy girl, to temptress to shivering junkie is handled with the maturity that it deserves. Without You is the standout song of the night and the audience is left emotional drained and in tears.
The relationships between the characters are what drives Rent’s narrative and there is no better pairing than Collins (Ryan Butterworth) and Angel (Harry Powell). The part time philosopher and the full time drag queen are at the heart of the show. Both living under the shadow of the HIV/AIDS virus they bring the show warmth against the backdrop of the freezing winters. Butterworth gives a confident performance of Collins and displays a vocal range which never falters from the depths to the rock tenor heights. The pairings final scene is truly touching and left this reviewer with more than a lump in his throat. Angel is a character so fresh and vibrant it would be easy to caricature the rôle or play it ham, fortunately Powell keeps the performance on the right side of the line making the audience really care about this East Village “misfit”.
Steph Anderson as Maureen, ex-girlfriend of Mark, new girlfriend of Joanne, is a show stopping performance. Not only does Anderson deliver the brightest and funniest scene in the musical, she sings with a wonderful belt voice. The chorus handle the difficulties of the songs with ease and Alex Phillips leads a fantastic orchestra.
The staging and the lighting are excellent and add a depth and dimension to an otherwise plain set. The use of the stairs works well though and the cast help ensure the scene transitions are seamless yet effective.
Although Dare To Go is an amateur company it serves to its favour as it is clear that every cast member has an emotional connection to the show that you often find missing from professional companies. There was however nothing amateur about this production. It is obvious that both cast and creative have poured their heart and souls into this production and the feeling emanates from the stage to the stalls. The sign of a great production is when you leave the theatre feeling emotionally changed by what you have witnessed, and this production of Rent certainly does that.
Runs Until 6th September