REVIEW: Rent @ Devonshire Park Theatre

Rent

Devonshire Park Theatre

Eastbourne

This show now in its 20th year and  wrapped round the plot of La bohème centres on the lives of a group of impoverished young American artists struggling with identity, HIV, homelessness, politics, death and a world which doesn’t seem to care about them or their dreams. This interwoven group are franticly building their own family and world in New York City’s East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian excess.

Stuffed into the cosy space of the Devonshire Park’s elegant stage it jars a touch, but then it kicks off – full octane – and instantly blasts away any doubts of what kind of show it is, it’s in your face, loud, proud and dynamic and it’s written like that.

During the very long first half when very little happens I  wondered why the music wasn’t live but then realised that the band was stuffed off at the back, hidden in the scenery and I caught sight of a tambourine and in the second half a nodding head, but other than that could see nothing of them, and I had pretty good seats in the stalls, how anyone sitting in the circles saw anything much I don’t know.

The staging is cramped but works and the lights are effective as possible, but it’s human interaction in Rent which really gives this show an edge, the actors act, and singers sing and it all does what it says on the tin but somehow it failed to gel for me.  My companion enjoyed Mimi’s turns, and the last minute stand-in as Angel was superb but overall it felt like a series of turns, until they all joined in together to the sublime choral moments when the show transcended itself.  One thing that stood out was the dancing, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a near, crisp ensemble perform such energetic dance numbers in such perfect formation, seriously well trained and very enjoyable to watch. With some superb double and trio dances also, the Maureen Tango worked very well in the small space available.

So a mixed bag of night, but if it’s your first time for Rent, I’d say give these kids a go, they certainly throw everything they have at the night and although curtailed slightly by the very cramped staging it is still one hell of a show and still relevant (sadly) more than 20 years after first appearing and although the HIV/AIDS deaths may have stopped coming with such relentlessness, the raising rate of infections hasn’t, nor has the homelessness, callousness of the rich or the desperate raw need for hope in a world more concerned with profit than humanity.

For full casting and further information about his tour see the Rent website here.

Although I wasn’t completely engaged or connect with any of the characters the actors certainly gave their all, but for the me the over-loud band meant that a lot of the stronger rock numbers simply got drowned out, some of the duets had problems with the voices too, although, once again when singing as an ensemble the singers were superb, pulling out all the stops for the famous choral songs within ‘Rent’.

The sudden and oddly tinkerbell like Mini resurrection of the ending still fails to convince and I wonder if Larson, the writer of it who so tragically died of a sudden brain condition on the eve of his opening night would have not been tempted to change the ending, but it is what it is and what it is an  award winning classic musical that certainly packs a rousing, life affirming punch dredged from the ruins of these young beautiful lives.

The rest of the audience seemed to love the show, it must be noted, and although a few folk were also talking about the muffled sound the very pleased house gave this energetic young group of performers a decent applause.

Until Sunday, February 5

For more info or to book tickets see the theatres website here.

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