Wednesday night was the opening - and closing - night of Rent, directed by Luke Sheppard at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester. The show is a revival of the rock musical by Jonathan Larson, loosely based on Giacomo Puccini's 1896 opera La Bohème. It tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists in Lower Manhattan’s East Village, living under the shadow of the HIV/AIDS crisis during the 1990s.
The theatre postponed their production of Rent due to the coronavirus pandemic, and then made all the necessary preparations to keep their patrons and staff safe for the reopening. Sadly, just before the official opening night, we all received the news that there was going to be a second national lockdown.
However, the performance received a 5-star review from WhatsOnStage, who called the show a ‘sensational revival’ of the iconic musical. I Love MCR online described Sheppard’s production as ‘bold, beautiful, and beguiling’ with ‘spine-tingling moments.’
Particular mentions were given both to David Woodhead for his set design and to Howard Hudson for his lighting design. Matt Barton from WhatsOnStage described how the set conveyed ‘the shabby character of the city’, and that the lighting filled the show with ‘life, colour and passion’ despite the bleakness of the context and setting.
The relevance of this musical is clear in today’s Covid-19 Britain, where the creative community has been brought to its knees and the livelihoods of those within it are under threat. Musical Theatre Review noted how this undertone gave the show a ‘sense of fight, energy, defiance’ in the face of continuing struggles for the theatre industry and all those involved in it. Describing it as ‘by far the most compelling production of Rent’ this reviewer had seen; it was given a 5-star review by them as well.
The cast includes Jocasta Almgill, Blake Patrick Anderson, Tom Francis, Ahmed Hamad, Dom Hartley-Harris, Millie O’Connell, Maiya Quansah-Breed, Alex Thomas-Smith, Kayla Carter, Allie Daniel, Isaac Hesketh, and Bethany Terry. As an ensemble, they provided ‘12 finely crafted performances onstage’ but never stole the show away from one another due to their ‘generosity as a team’.
Rent will be available to watch online from November 27th to December 20th, and you can buy tickets for these performances here.
Photos © Pamela Wraith