Rent Review

Curve Theatre Leicester – until 8th June 2024

Reviewed by Amarjeet Singh


A reframing of Puccini’s La Bohème, Rent depicts the struggle of life and the dichotomy between wealth, poverty, and homelessness in New York’s lower East side in the 1980s. Penned by Jonathan Larson, who tragically died the night before the first ever scheduled performance, it’s the heart-wrenching story of love, friendship, and the AIDS epidemic. A poignant tale of those who understand that we must treasure life as the precious gift that it is, to make the most of each and every day because it can be oh so short. It gives a voice to the marginalised, the often unseen and offers a rich tapestry of diversity, beautifully celebrated and fabulously explored through music and movement.

This offering from the Leicester Amateur Operatic Society in Curve’s studio space was puzzling. There is a lack of diversity which is integral to this tale. The ensemble did an excellent job with singing the group numbers, but there were some pitching issues with solos and duets. Sound was a serious concern, with several mics dropping out during the second half, so swarths of dialogue were missed, but the main thing which left me baffled was that the main characters didn’t seem to quite get the motivations of the people they were playing. Lines were nonchalantly spoken without true meaning, such as people dying, people having AIDS and key moments in the production were not embraced with the gravity they deserved. At times it felt like I was watching an episode of Friends, ‘The one where she dies, and she doesn’t’. This production appeared to be sold as a glitzy, glam, ‘he is dating her, she used to date him saga’, rather than the gritty, gut-wrenching wonderful story it is.

Direction by John Bale was confusing. There were times when the stage was either very full or quite empty. There were moments when I was not sure of what the space was being used for, an HIV support group suddenly turns into punters for a strip show with Mimi jumping of the stage into Rogers room with zero transition. Actors were often stilted, singing out to the stage or wandering awkwardly. Choreography by Carl Robinson-Edwards was equally as puzzling, very pantomime like at points and ‘La Vie Boheme’ was quite ‘Thriller’ esq in its uniformity and not like its free-spirited vibe. Scenery and staging consisted of a raised central platform which was not always effectively utilised, along with some interesting projections on the back wall. The chairs were overkill and swamped the stage.

Tom Urch as Roger had an incredible voice, belting out ‘Glory’ with true passion, but he didn’t endear. Mostly sullen I wish he had engaged more with acting like he was playing the guitar as if he were an actual musician. Charlotte Kennedy as Mimi seemed very unsure and was not believable in anyway as dealing with a serious health condition or having an addiction. Her singing was beautiful. Their relationship warmed up towards the end of the production.

Dan Brewer was an Angel of 2 halves, delicately acted but seemed to really struggle with the dance numbers. Charlotte Brown gave Maureen no light or dark, completely one note she was difficult to warm to and did not have the audience mooing. Ed Turner as Mark lost his story, yet he narrates everyone else’s, his singing voice was great, but his life struggles were not fed across. For all of these acting issues, I feel it could be due to directional choices as opposed to talent as they were all sensational singers. Dan Rowberry as Tom Collins was fantastic. He along with Mia Dobney as Joanne belted out their songs and gave stellar performances. They truly grasped their characters, the layers and delivered on point.

As a collective this cast worked incredibly hard on this performance but its poorly executed as a whole. Were it to be reimagined as songs from Rent, with the cast singing it and the marvelous live band, led by the musical director Steven Duguid, it would be a sure-fire hit. However, in its current format, this production of Rent does not work as it misses the very heart of everything Larsons story stands for. In the end, it’s not about “what you own” but the way you made people feel. I wish this had been taken into account when this production of Rent was being staged.