Review: Rent raises new standards for theatre in Harlow

Lifestyle / Thu 9th Jul 2015 at 10:02pm

By Harry Tennison

RENT originally opened on Broadway in 1996 after having to move from its original off-Broadway home due to its increasing popularity and the emergence of the self-titled ‘Rent heads’ – in short, the show was simply too popular! The musical tells the story of struggling artists attempting to live and love in New York’s Alphabet City in the early 1990s, while living in the shadow of HIV/AIDS.

Harlow Theatre Company’s production is their first musical in 18 years, however given the slickness of their production, it would seem that they’d never stopped. The creative team of director Jody Randall, Paul Tarling, who choreographed the production, and MD Chris Redman have created a brash and honest production that surpasses the expectations for an amateur production.

Danny Hurley was excellent as Mark, the American-Jewish filmmaker who rejects corporate advances in order to stay true to his friends, whilst Stefan Mullard depicted the HIV+ Roger with a fragile and brittle physicality.

Simon Carnell’s portrayal of Angel was sublime, yet emotionally devastating as he was held in the arms of lover Tom, played solidly by Lorenzo Culora. Chanelle Hayles was a perfect casting choice for Mimi, the HIV+ drug addict who falls in love with Roger. Her delicate voice yet powerful stage presence resonated with Rosario Dawson’s performance in the 2005 film version.

Brett Stevens and Steve Dove designed and built an imaginative set, featuring the very talented on-stage band, and Mike Penketh’s lighting design was smart and impactful.

Randall’s directing was bold and engaging, juxtaposing Maureen’s (Melissa Guest) bare backside with the harrowing scenes of the HIV support group in Act 1. Tarling’s choreography was at its best in Contact, blending seamlessly from the sordid sex scenes into a touching tribute to the recently departed Angel, whilst Redman ensured such hits as Seasons of Love and La Vie Boheme sounded as good as they looked.

Redman told me before the show that this was an “experiment”, in which case I look forward to the upcoming variations and replications that Harlow Theatre Company produces. The creative dream team of Randall, Tarling and Redman have created a production which, rightfully so, refuses to shy away from its intense themes, and sets a new standard for amateur theatre in Harlow.

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