Rent - Musical ☆☆☆☆4
Showing from - Wednesday, September 16, 2015 through till Saturday, September 19, 2015
The Guildhall Theatre - Derby
Kathryn McAuley | Friday, September 18, 2015
If you're looking for an antidote to the seasonal blues – Rent by Gatepost Theatre Company in Derby provides it.
The intimate Guildhall Theatre in Derby, with its slightly claustrophobic stage, was the perfect setting for what is a raw examination of the human heart. Not only did the company portray the musical’s humanity, they embodied it through their evident mutual love and support, on stage and off.
Set in New York in the 1990s, Rent tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to make a life for themselves in the shadow of HIV and AIDS. It can be a difficult musical to engage with but Gatepost managed to bring out the emotional depth of the pieceAn unfamiliar context to most, and using terms of reference which are not always easily recognisable, the complicated storyline and lyrics are thrown down fast and furious. It can make it a difficult musical to engage with but Gatepost managed to bring out the emotional depth of the piece.
The leading men were remarkably strong across the board. It’s rare to see such consistency of male talent in amateur musicals, and none of the roles are a traditional ‘leading man’, but the individual characters were vividly drawn. Jon Dawkins as Mark immediately engaged from the opening scene. Simon Collington as Roger showed a touching vulnerability, belying the ‘rock star’ voice. Angel is a character that brings a touch of light relief from the musical’s darker themes but was delicately done by Daniel Collington, avoiding the pitfall of the stereotype. Even amongst this wealth of talent, the stand out performance for me was from Luke Grainger playing Collins – an incredibly rich, deep voice, and a very moving and sensitive portrayal.
The roles are none the less challenging for the women and Laura Howard as Mimi not only belted out the big songs with passion but gave a very controlled and touching performance of ‘Without You’. Josephine Pearson rocked the role of Joanne and Gemma Ryan as Maureen clearly introduced the idea of performance art to some of the audience for the first time – the nervous giggling in the audience behind me finally resolving as they ‘got it’.
It was a very confident performance from the whole cast, who were clearly relishing every minute, and which demonstrated such on-stage comfort that you just knew they’d put their heart and soul into rehearsal. Great harmonies, clear diction, and strong supporting characterisation. In Emily Marshall-Sims' first role as Musical Director she created a proper rock sound from a small but well balanced band, avoiding any crowding of the vocals. Again, their team-work was evident to hear.
Clever choreography by Stephanie Wright highlighted both the comedic moments, in the likes of ‘Last Tango Maureen’ and was used to convey the passing of time, subtly interpreting the changing rhythms of the music. The stage set, consisting of a simple series of doors, was used very effectively to give a sense of movement as part of the whole choreography and stage setting, giving the feeling of lives tumbled on top of one another, interlacing, and suggesting the passage of time and place.
This was a cleverly directed production, challenging and with many layers but in the end warm and convincing. There was real humanity in the performances from a cast that exuded exactly what the over-arching theme declared: that love and friendship mean everything, whatever the season.
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