Wednesday, 21 November 2018
REVIEW: Rent - The Civic Centre, Heywood.
Rent is 'one of those shows'; it's a difficult show to pull off, hugely ambitious and something that not everyone, especially those of a certain age will either 'get' or like - and so for a renowned amateur theatre company to do this - and to do it so assuredly - takes balls! Welcome to Rochdale Musical Theatre Company (RMTC). They have taken this show, grabbed it by the throat, and their hard work and talent come shining through in their opening night's performance at Heywood's Civic Centre.
Rent takes place over the course of just one year (or 525,600 minutes if you prefer!) on the cusp of The Millennium, in a Bohemian community in New York. And although they might well enjoy living 'La Vie Boheme', they admit that they still need money to do this. It is also a time when AIDS was rife and friends-turned-landlords, mean. The community comes together and protests about the unfair evictions and victimisation of this run-down and un-cared for part of the city which city developers have their greedy eyes on.
It's a gritty and tragic story with a vocal score and characters requiring a hugely talented and multi-disciplined cast, and I more than happy to report that that is exactly what RMTC's production had.
The story centres around and is partly narrated by Mark (Elliott O'Brart) who spends his time video-recording life in the hope that he will one day make it big as a film maker. O'Brart's lovely relaxed stage presence and wonderful voice are a joy, and his character, slightly insecure and wanting to please, was perfectly placed. His room-mate Roger (Zac McIntyre), a would-be rock star working on his one hit, was the exact opposite with a strong and purposeful personality and a very strong and loud rock voice to boot. I think however that McIntyre was pushing just a little too hard this evening, perhaps trying too hard to give the 'lived-in' vocal sound quality of many a rock star. I think if he relaxed more into the role, allowing his shoulders to drop and relax, his performance would improve. A very talented actor nevertheless.
Tom Collins (Darren Fricker) gave a lovely sympathetic and understated performance as another friend of the protagonists who, after being beaten up for his coat, is found by a young drag queen, and their developing relationship over the course of the musical and his song of loss at the end was superbly measured. The young drag queen goes by the name of Angel (Alex Pembers) and his performance this evening almost stole the show. Outrageously high heels and a sexy one-piece that most females would baulk at having to wear were no bother, even when given difficult and energetic choreography which was executed perfectly. Certainly one of the best Angels I have ever seen!
The principals are complete with the addition of three powerhouse performances by three talented ladies. Mimi (Helen Claire-Rose), a young exotic dancer with a drug addiction had her character to a 'Tee', and her conflicting emotions over her love and her security as well as her failing health were handled superbly. Not to mention the fact that vocally and movement-wise, she was excellent too. The much talked about Maureen (Sophie Lord) doesn't actually put in an appearance until almost at the end of the first act, but when she does, the whole cast palpably up their game to accommodate her. She starts by 'singing' possibly the weirdest and most difficult song in the musical theatre repertoire,'Over The Moon', but carries it off like she was born to do it! Her girlfriend is the more 'normal' and down to earth Joanne (Kyanna Cronshaw), a lawyer by profession but mostly tries to act as Maureen's agent. The showstopping number in the whole show for me was their duet, 'Take Me Or Leave Me'.
What let the show down for me unfortunately were things technical. The set, a large and sprawling affair with one side given over to a telephone booth and street, the other a large tubular sculpture with wheels and shoes (I am still uncertain as to what this was supposed to represent), whilst the main stage was very 70s in feel. Rostra and walkways with ladders - I almost expected 'Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord' (or something similar) to start rather than being in a late 1990s rundown area of New York! The flat was a very small central platform which, given the size of the stage and the movement needed inside this space was much too small. The set felt all wrong and clashed with the overall feel of the musical. It also made entrances and exits extremely clunky and unnatural. Cast having to bend almost in half to walk under the raised walkway and through a curtain. Not only that, but by doing this it slowed down the scene changes and instead of them flowing freely from one to the next, there were long gaps while waiting for one set of cast to exit and the next to come in.
The lighting too was rather poor this evening. The central stage area was amply lit. but the further to either side of the main stage one went, the darker it became and there were times when cast were completely in darkness because of this. Also the four specials erected on the scaffold walkway pointing towards the audience should have been used only for special occasions and not throughout. They were distracting and unnecessary in most scenes.
Given the beautiful attention to detail on character and story by director Josh Hindle, I was surprised and disappointed that technically it didn't shine (sorry, pun unintentional there!). Hindle's work on making sure the story was clear and understandable was excellent. I have seen productions of this musical which rattle on at such a pace that the story simply gets lost; and combine this with a superb-sounding chorus, a 10-piece band hidden away under the rostra and sounding excellent under the tight direction of Lisa Manley and the show is a guaranteed hit.
This is the third show I have seen now from this company. The first was the northern premiere production of 'A Tale Of Two Cities', followed last year by 'The Full Monty', and this boundary-pushing society just gets better and better!
Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 20/11/18