Rent – Tabard Theatre

Rating ****
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes

Rent – The Tabard Theatre – 8th August 2013

Loosely based on Puccini’s La Bohème, RENT tells the story of a group of impoverished young people living in New York under the shadow of HIV. Fighting with disease, poverty and love, this show is about a year in their life.

The Tabard Theatre is quite a small space, used primarily as a comedy club. An unlikely location for a show as ‘big’ as RENT, but the stage is used to great effect, with only a few props and bits of scenery. The Christmas tree made from empty bottles is a work of genius and perfectly captures the spirit of their Christmas with “No Sleighbells, No Santa Claus, No Yule Log, No Tinsel”.

“I want reality, I want truth and I want to create an impact” were the words of Director and Choreographer Adam Scown. He got all three. RENT is one of those productions that is non-stop action throughout Act One. Songs, dancing, drama.

Special mention should be given to the ensemble in this production, which is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The theatre was boiling and they were all dressed in jumpers, scarves and coats. You could see the perspiration, but it didn’t affect their performance.

They are a strong group of supporting actors, each getting a chance to sing a solo and dance. The girls in particular deserve special mention for their performances: all had strong, clear voices – better in fact than some of the main cast – and their rendition of Seasons of Love was beautiful.

But that doesn’t mean the main cast (most of them quite fresh performers) aren’t fantastic – far from it. Their energy levels are amazing to watch.

The Tango Maureen was a clear highlight of Act One. Both Charlie Royce (Mark) and Ambra Caserotti (Joanne) performed a strong tango, with excellent delivery of the song and the awkwardness of their situation was quite evident.

William Whelton (Angel) is also a delight to watch, choosing to play Angel with a delicate humour which is enhanced by the height difference between him and Tom. But his interpretation is very pleasing, especially his cute, feminine gestures and his deliberate tottering.

Angel and Tom’s relationship doesn’t have as much stage time as Mimi and Roger’s, but it manages to be more believable. Maureen and Joanne are perhaps the most convincing of the three couples, as the girls are both very tender towards each other on stage. Even during Maureen’s protest (which was very well done) Joanne looks at her with an amused look of affection.

After the protest there’s a superb piece of choreography with table slapping and clapping from the whole group. I know from experience how difficult this can be, but their coordination and timing was impeccable and it looked fantastic.

Although the big showy numbers seemed to have had more rehearsal than the intimate scenes, they didn’t lack emotion. They did however seem overshadowed by the rest of the show and although Angel’s death was sad, nobody was sobbing.

Overall, the dancing and acting was far stronger than the singing, with some of the high notes sounding a bit strained in places. It also didn’t help that the sound system was much too loud!

Pindar Productions have taken a famous musical and put their own spin on it, making it darker than the film. The whole performance was energetic and enthusiastic – the cast were clearly having a blast and enjoying themselves and the audience just wanted to join in!