Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Friday 30th October - Wednesday 4th October 2020

Friday 27th November - Sunday 20th December 2020 (RENT ONLINE)

What solidifies RENT as a true gasmic nature of the musical theatre world is the open and honest depiction of AIDs and HIV in the 80s, where this time was riff in the disease and known widely but spoken like a taboo subject, and whilst previous productions of Jonathan Larson’s RENT has strayed away from the heart of the story, and instead inject production values that hit the roof and come across brash, The Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester have rather opted to strip back the material to it’s bare bones, and showcase the real essence of the story, with a definitive production that puts every member of it’s cast at the centre of the action, which some visual masterpieces included.

Throughout the performance, which lasted over two and a half hours, I had two gentlemen next to me (divided by a perspex screen), that clearly burst with excitement as soon as the initial note of any musical number was played, when they started squeezing each others hands, and rightly so; the cast behind this rather eerie, broken retelling, which has the cast sat around the stage looking on, felt like they were giving their final moments of energy left on this earth. Powerful, Responsive, and Precise, you could see the chemistry almost oscillating on stage between the players, and the fact that they have had to share a house bubble throughout rehearsals and into the performances, clearly shines in this aspect on stage. 

With Mark (Blake Patrick Anderson) and Roger (Tom Francis) storming through the first number, appropriately entitled RENT, Tom Jackson Greaves choreography encapsulates the whole stage with the whole ensemble, who deliver a heart pounding sequence that involves chairography and a crisp stampede onto the stage, which feels intimate but accessible to display the fast movement involved. From the sidelines throughout, the chemistry and compassion for the whole cast towards one another was heightened to another level when you catch Millie O’Connell and Bethany Terry (A stand-out performer in the making) express their sheer emotional support system for those on stage, with their faces lit up with pure happiness that cemented the idea of just how close this cast really as a company.

Of course any RENT fan will know of Mimi’s (Maiya Quansah-Breed) struggle with addiction, and what Maiya brings to the role is an understanding that will have your hairs quaking across the body, as she journeys with the character to a climax that will shatter your heart, just shortly following on from Angel’s (Alex Thomas-Smith) arc that uses materials which transforms the whole stage, and has us as an audience in the palm of their hands, where we are thrown into a moment of silence and intense emotion, that has Howard Hudson’s Lighting dazzle and take our breath away for a moment as it glissens across the sheets, with the only hope that this emulates well through the screen when the musical is set to be streamed over the upcoming months online.

Overall, The Hope Mill Thaetre’s production of RENT can only truly be described as definitive. From Tom Francis’ (Roger) haunting rendition of One Song Glory, which challenges Dom Hartley-Harris’ (Collins) harrowing reprise of I’ll Cover You, and matches up to Jocasta Almgill (Joanne) and Millie O’Connell’s (Maureeen) catchy and cat-ish playful tone of Take Me or Leave Me, the whole cast and creative team have pulled together so spectacular in such unusual circumstances, and have provided an evening for audiences that they’ll never forget.


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