The Duchess Theatre in Long Eaton is an absolutely splendid space and as a Leicester lass, I find myself wishing that it were on my doorstep. The upcoming catalogue of shows is exciting and varied, and showcases local talent such as that in tonight’s performance of Rent, intelligently and sensitively brought to a captive audience by The Kristian Thomas Company.
The house lights go down and the stage immediately comes to life as the Senior Youth Company flood the stage with vigour and excitement. Rent tells the tale of five hundred, twenty five thousand six hundred minutes or, for those not familiar with the epic “Seasons of Love”, a year in the lives of a group of young, penniless bohemians in 1980s New York. Set under the shadow of the AIDS crisis, this contemporary and gritty musical focuses on how the characters navigate their way through a complex world that seems to not want them to flourish as themselves.
One of my pet hates in a production, is a dead stage – those few seconds where nothing happens and it feels like an eternity for the audience can often feel like lazy direction – and this is certainly not the case for this production. Direction by Katy Maclaughlin is energetic and precise; indeed the ensemble are present on stage for pretty much the entirety of the performance, almost acting as an onstage audience at times. The simplicity of the set, with very few props, could have left the stage feeling very empty, but the presence of the ensemble really adds an extra dimension to the production. However, the lack of an actual tangible set makes if difficult for me, as a new audience member of Rent, to follow the plot, especially in the first half of Act 1. Rent is very song heavy, and I find it difficult to contextualise characters and their relationships. To cement the theatrical experience an actual set is important to this fast-paced production. Otherwise… let’s concentrate on the good stuff… because there is plenty to appreciate in this senior youth production.
Sam Hedley, as Musical Director, really had her work cut out for her with this youth production and she has really risen to the challenge with some beautiful harmonies coming through, most notably in “I Should Tell You”, “Take Me or Leave Me” and “Seasons of Love”. The singing in the bigger, ensemble numbers is lively and enthusiastic – you can really see that the cast have really gelled whilst rehearsing this show. A shout out to the member of the ensemble who hit the super high note in Seasons of Love – such control and amazing top notes! Likewise, the choreography by Shannon O’Donnell is vigorous and the ensemble give it their all, bringing more life to the stage. “Out Tonight” is the definite highlight for choreography!
The Principal actors are extremely well cast. Amelie Turner’s Mimi is outwardly strong, but she has real vulnerability. Turner’s facial expressions convey Mimi’s inner conflict and desperation for love extremely well. The chemistry between Mimi and Roger (Max Henshaw) grows as the show goes on. Henshaw does a great job of clearly wanting Mimi but resisting the temptation due to his medical condition. Henshaw puts real emotion into his singing and the audience feel every word. “I Should Tell You” is a beautiful duet between Mimi and Roger; Turner and Henshaw definitely do it justice.
Mark (Ben Hale) is steady and focused. A wannabe film maker, he is lauded for his film on the riots. Hale opens the show and acts as a narrator; it’s always important for the audience to trust the narrator and Hale is able to build rapport with the audience immediately. “Tango: Maureen”, a duet with Joanne (Orlagh McAleese) is a highlight for Hale and introduces us to the character of Joanne who is a little different to the rest of the group as a public interest lawyer McAleese shows this distinction with ease. Joanne’s relationship with Maureen (Savannah Pinto) is one of the highlights of the show, and Pinto’s presentation of Maureen is just fantastic. She is quirky, she is loud but is ultimately caring and thoughtful. Pinto’s performance of “Over the Moon” is hilarious, and not too cringey. She has an absolute powerhouse voice which leaves me with tingles.
The part of the show that leaves me the most emotional involves Collins (Bailey West) and Angel (Max Fuller) but I won’t give away any spoilers. The sensitivity that pervades both of these performances is wonderful and as a duo, these two performers compliment each other. West really shows his acting chops during the emotional climax, and I am absolutely in awe of his ability to completely break down with emotion whilst controlling his singing voice. It is a goose bumps moment. This performance is full of energy and zazz, but underneath it all, it is a story about the human ability to love and overcome obstacles. There is “no day but today” to head down to The Duchess Theatre to experience this tale of dreams, loss and the fragility and strength of relationships.
Rent runs until Saturday 28th January 2023 at The Duchess Theatre Long Eaton.