I’m still a bit dumbstruck by RENT. I am not sure I have ever seen as diverse an audience at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking nor one that so enthusiastically responded to the performance throughout, ending in a total standing ovation from people who absolutely engaged with the show from the first. (There you go, short version- if you need to get encouragement to go and see it)
The set, musicians and cast are amazing the cleverly choreographed dances, Angel (Layton Williams) in Today 4 U and Mark & Joanne (played by understudies Joshua Denver & Jenny O’Leary) in Tango Maureen were amongst the stand out dances. The vocals of all the cast members were absolutely incredible, soulful, poignant, heart wrenching, rock and raise the roof however the vocals from Layton Williams, Jenny O’Leary & Phillipa Stefani (Mimi Marquez) Ryan O’Gorman (Tom Collins) particularly moved me. Jonathan Larson the writer who tragically died the day before its first scheduled performance was influenced by rock n roll as much as musical theatre and this is brought to bear in the songs, influences of of The Who are apparent as well as a sample of Quando M’envo within the score documenting it within La Boheme skilfully re made for the future.
If you have ever been slapped with a great big mackerel across the cheeks several times to wake you up and pull your attention (in a nice way) to witness something fantastic then you’ll probably be quite used to this, but despite an apparent brashness over the subject the beautiful layers intermingling and revealing universal themes throughout draw you in to this world created in Jonathan Larson’s RENT. That it is based around the tragic La Boheme set in 1990’s New York with AIDS being a central spectre as opposed to TB shows these sadnesses, celebrations and preciousness of life are the pulse that keep us going. These young people then living under a sentence repeating that mantra as repeated by young people century after century in war, disease and revolution know the value of life as a rich tapestry unafraid to stand against what is destroying them and make life beautiful in whatever way they can. I could see the musical, I could see the New York factory set and the people but then this odd stuff happened. I remembered a friend and when the lesions came, and I remember that he was happy in a relationship but then he died and his family threw out his loved one, partner of 20 years from their joint home, because they could then. Now we would be shocked by that and now they could be married and his partner would have grieved in the home they shared memories in. I hope those people have changed their minds about what love is now. There’s a theme I saw in RENT, there’s a lot of love in it with all different people but it remains the same, same as then same as now, just love.
Then I saw these bohemians protesting and dancing and the audience going wild for them and I remembered that our cultural spaces are being razed by big business and the bohemians are protesting, I hope people cheer on these guardians of culture as well, not just when it is in a play but when it is in real life in the spaces where dreams are made; in song, in art, in word and in gesture and that when we are poor it isn’t that romantic or glamorous when the electricity fails and people have nothing to eat; and I hope that in another 20 years or so that when RENT is still sharing this humane and universal message it won’t have to be updated again for a modern audience because these things were still happening, but I have a sad feeling were it set in these days it may be, the diseases we live under may change and the prejudices and the injustices and poverties but they are still there with a different outfit on. It would be great to make them historical dramas….
RENT is on at The New Victoria Theatre in Woking until Sat 11 March 2017 http://www.atgtickets.com