RENT: Book, Music, Lyrics: Jonathan Larson
Old Joint Stock Theatre, Birmingham
Runs: 2h 50m, one interval. To 14 December 2013-12-08
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 07 12 13
A unique experience.
The enterprising Old Joint Stock (pub) theatre in Birmingham is running its own Musical Theatre Company. One of its aims is to bring large-scale musicals into the fringe venue’s intimate surroundings. Two of the challenges, then, of mounting RENT are how do you fit it in? and what about the restricted size of the audience?
The solve the first with an ingenious set which imaginatively uses the space and they put the band in a completely different space; performers take their beat from the conductor / keyboard via a monitor. With regards to the small audience, we are given a unique experience. And thanks to the skills of the sound chaps (Andrew Mawson and others) we still experience the electronic musical sound which is now an integral part of the musical theatre experience.
RENT is very much an ensemble piece. Stemming from the 1990s it takes a disparate group of dollar-less young people who create a lively existence for themselves in New York, despite a despicable landlord squeezing rent from them. Their existence is bearable because they have each other. Sadly, though, we all have to grow up, and life is, in reality, far from a bed of roses.
The ensemble’s performance is excellent. Whether pushing out a big number or singing a-cappella (or near a-cappella) their singing is impassioned and accurate.
Leads are strong, too. In particular Mark (Karl Steele) who draws us in, and Roger (Richard Haines) who eventually gets to write his song. Within the OJS intimate surroundings, his intensity is moving; Steele and Haines create a tangible relationship, too, important as a spine for the story.
Alanna Boden (the lesbian middle-class lawyer) is outstanding. She has a strong voice that easily holds its own (when necessary) against the whole ensemble, and a warm personality, bubbling over, at times, into impeccable comic timing.
A remarkable high-quality event in this high-quality fringe theatre space.
Roger Davis: Richard Haines
Mark Cohen: Karl Steele
Tom Collins: Patison Harrigan
Benjamin Coffin III: Craig Hall
Joanna Jefferson: Alanna Boden
Angel Dumoff Schumard: Michael Bentley
Mimi Marquez: Hannah Kilroy
Maureen Johnson: Sarah HainesSwing: Ben Foulds
Ensemble: Simon Burgess, James Kelly, Robert Bateman, Ben Foulds, Hannah Fennell, Cat Harris, Elysia Stretton
Producer / Director: Karl Steele
Assistant Director: Richard Haines
Choreography: Sarah Haines
Vocal Coach: Allanna Boden
Photogrpahy: Redlock Photography
Props: Wasim Rashid
Sound Engineer: Andrew Mawson
Lighting and Sound: David Anderson and Alex Nankivell
Set Construction Assistant: Nick Hazelwood
Set Artwork: Sophie Reynolds