As I arrive at the Mitchell Arts Centre, you receive a warm welcome by the front of house staff of “One productions” for their production of “Rent”. I am shown to my seat and wait for the lights to dim. I don’t know what to expect with this, as I have never seen “Rent” before, only listened to snippets of the soundtrack. But it’s safe to say, this did not disappoint.
The show is based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La bohème”, and tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create in New York City’s Lower East Side in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. It’s a sad tale with a semi-happy vibe, as you see the characters having fun, knowing that they don’t know when their final day will be.
I must say I really enjoyed this performance. I know the topic is very depressing, but the musical itself was fantastic. The 14-strong cast made the show, with superb singing and believable acting. With something like this, believing the characters actually have those emotions is key, or otherwise you might as well be playing yourself. But with every tear that fell from Collins’ eyes as Angel died, you believed it was real.
The two leads, played by Matthew O’Connor and Rob Stanway, had incredible stage presence together. They worked as a team on that stage, and captivated the audience whenever they came on. It was great to see such a connection between the two actors as well as characters. Collins, played by James Dawe, Benny, played by Andy Wellings, and Angel, played by Andrew Turner, shined through in the group scenes. Angel’s performance was very good, combining great vocals and great acting.
With the ladies, Mimi, Maureen and Joanne, played by Hannah Storey, Jude Martin and Natasha Wearing, were an amazing group of singers. Hitting all the right notes, great acting and some very inspiring and eye-watering outfits, they made a great triple threat. Mimi’s character is a tricky character to play, as you need to feel so many emotions, and Hannah Storey did the job. Some of her outfit choices might have been a bit risqué, as well as some of Maureen’s, but she did very well.
The ensemble cast did very well filling in all the smaller roles, and running up and down the stairs to the different levels of the stage must have been hard in those costumes, but they did a very good job. One shout out I must make is to one of the ensemble members, James Price. His ensemble pieces were amazing, and he had the vocals of a lead character. Some big notes were called for, and he stood up and took it. Well done to you.
The live music was brilliant. Constantly giving us sound cues as to what was happening, and delivering sound that wasn’t too loud so you couldn’t hear what the characters were singing about. To get that balance right is tricky, and I’ve seen many performances where you just can’t hear what is being sung, but this time round I was not disappointed.
Overall I must say that the performance I saw tonight (31st October) was splendid, and if the show was on later that the 2nd November, I would go again! As always with reviews, something has to be critiqued, but I can’t think of a flaw with the performance. At the end of the show, I thought it was a very lovely choice to show a homemade slideshow of the rehearsals and all the characters. It made the show feel a bit more homely. Bravo to all involved!
On a side note, to the 2 front of house staff who ran after me to give me a free programme, I thank you very much, it was a lovely gesture, and I can safely say I will be coming to watch the next show the “One productions” group put on.
By Helen Fulton