Rent – at Questors Theatre until June 18th

Image from wlmht.nhs.uk

A well-choreographed, energetic production of the Jonathan Larson classic. Some fantastic performances (yet they unfortunately share the stage with a couple of glaring vocal errors). The production of this difficult musical about AIDS in early 90s New York seems pretty popular with the audience though…

‘Rent’ is a funny musical – and by funny I mean a bit odd. It has some fantastic, stand-out songs. ‘Take Me or Leave Me’ and ‘Seasons of Love’ are irrepressible, universal and quirky – just what Larson did best. However, I’ve always felt that a couple of good songs, a bit of controversy and very little else are what has carried it to worldwide fame. Rent lacks a central, involving storyline. Focussing on a disparate group of friends, three love stories and the underlying themes of living with AIDS and ‘La Vie Boheme’, any production could be forgiven for the audience not quite getting the point in the first half, until the narrative speeds up and ties together loose ends towards the finale.

This Questors production does an admirable job, supported by some hugely promising and consistent performances – from Rea Campbell-Hill (Angel), Peter Beaven (Tom Collins) and Martin Keddie (Benny), whose vocals and characterization were faultless. Sadly the female leads came off less well. Each proved that they could sing in certain songs (the very difficult to pull off ‘Over the Moon’ was tackled with gusto and success), but were inconsistent in delivery between numbers, culminating in the complete murder of ‘Take Me or Leave Me’. On the bright side, the company numbers were fantastic – ‘Seasons of Love’ was done complete justice, with a member of the ensemble delivering an accomplished solo performance.

The choreography and staging were great (though the very obvious stage hand ‘door-movers’ were a little distracting). It captured the garish colours and fashion of the early 90s, though I am unsure about the prolific use of cell-phones as a period detail…

Questors is an interesting venue for this project. On arrival, the impression is of a leisure centre – wooden clad box office, large-print, black and white directions to the toilet. Then a local library atmosphere takes over as grey-haired volunteers eagerly offer assistance in finding seats, and finally the impression is of a pot of gold – a glass of wine (perfectly good as well I might add) for £1.80? I’ll be back! Despite the seeming clash of cultures between material and audience (most were obviously using their OAP concession status), the show seemed to be a hit amongst the audience, culminating in a standing ovation from one partcularly enthusiastic man with roughly 70 years under his belt. Hurrah for diversity! Maybe this show has a wider appeal than I thought.

Rent is running at Questors, Ealing’s Theatre, until Saturday, 18th June.

 

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