Review: RENT by Shotgun Theatre

Shotgun RENT

Photo credit: Shotgun Theatre

The phenomenal rock musical RENT came to Exeter Phoenix, performed by Shotgun Theatre. Originally written by Jonathan Larson, the musical drew from his personal experiences of living as a starving artist in New York. As he watched his friends around him contract HIV and AIDs, he created his Pulitzer Prize winning musical and titled it ‘RENT’ for its second meaning; ‘to tear apart’.

Directed by self-declared ‘RENT-head’ Caroline Lang, the cast and crew delivered an impressive performance, although at times let down by the technology.

As I went into the show, the venue was packed with ticket holders and the queue extended down the stairs outside. The set was simple but effective with the live band tucked under the scaffold and a big Christmas tree on the side (which we think was recycled from the Forum).

It was a long performance with a break between the two acts – a huge task for the band and cast. Their stamina was impressive, with approximately two hours and forty-five minutes of non-stop music and dance. The band was brilliant – as with all live bands, there was the risk of overpowering the actors’ vocals. However, Viv Inglis’s musical direction was very effective, balancing the two aspects of the performance together.

Several songs received a strong reaction from the audience – ‘Over the Moon’ got a lot of laughs as Maureen (Hannah Bloom) delivered the avant-garde piece with confidence and melodramatic energy, encouraging the crowd to moo with her. Other duets including ‘I’ll Cover You’, ‘Tango: Maureen’ and ‘Take Me or Leave Me’ drew the biggest applause from the audience for their emotion and choreography. The chorus songs with the ensemble were fantastic, especially ‘La Vie Bohème’ as they united to defy Benny (Dylan Frankland) and take pride in their artistic nonconformist lives.

Mimi’s (Ellen Victoria) solo ‘Out Tonight’ was sadly disappointed by her microphone, which distorted her higher notes and more powerful parts. Unfortunately, the tech continued to be an issue throughout the show – mics rubbed against clothes, were late to switch on and the spotlight were occasionally slow to follow the actor across the stage. Mistakes were infrequent, but still unfortunate. Otherwise, Mimi’s overly sexual yet troubled character was well conveyed. Similarly, Angel (Roberto Palfrey) required a lot of confidence and stage charisma in order to not just flounce across the stage as a drag queen, but captivate the audience with her loving personality. She quickly became a much loved character and the audience looked forward to her scenes. The relationship between Angel and Tom (Henry Adams) had a convincing chemistry and in the darker second act it was emotional watching her take off her drag makeup and wig as her warm energy and health deteriorated.

Shotgun Theatre’s great production of one of the best-loved Broadway shows is a must-see. It’s no surprise that tickets sold out so fast; we hope you were one of those lucky enough to pick one up in time.

Christy Ku

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