I missed the original performance of Rent back in the late 90s and the subsequent film, although was aware of its impact and acclaim, so was pleased to hear that a brand new production celebrating its 20th anniversary was coming to Woking. The multi-award winning rock musical, inspired by Puccini’s opera La Boheme, was written by Jonathon Larson and ran on Broadway for 12 years, from 1996-2008, and for 18 months in the London West End. Sadly, Larson didn’t experience the success of his play, nor see the film adaptation, as he died unexpectedly the night before the show’s first off-Broadway performance in New York. And after seeing this performance, all I can think is, what a shame, as the play is a triumph of originality and dynamism, that lives on to this day.

Rent tells the story of a group of struggling artists in New York’s East Village, fighting for individuality and love amongst the threat of gentrification and conformist lifestyles. The passion and tragedy of La Boheme serves as the structure, but Larson brought in modern themes and a score that appeals to current values and perspectives. The audience loved it.

Set, costumes and a live band on stage sets the scene perfectly, absorbing the audience into the time and the place. Unlike some performances I’ve seen, the all-British cast delivers the American accent well, without going too nasally. The first couple of numbers were a little low in energy levels, but once we were familiarised, the dynamism on stage took over and the audience was completely engaged. Layton Williams as Angel stole the show with his performance of Today 4 U, and after that, the performances were galvanised. Well, doing a flawless, handless backflip in four-inch heels while singing and dancing sets the bar very high indeed! Strong performances also came from the women performers, who sang with a passion. Lucie Jones, our current Eurovision hopeful, as Maureen, memorably delivers a hilarious performance that works the mike in unimaginable ways, and Jenny O’Leary as Joanne, dancing an unexpected tango, delighted the audience.

Funny, sexy, and moving, Rent is playing at the New Victoria theatre from Wednesday 8 March – Saturday 11 March, with additional matinees on Wednesday and Saturday.

[Amanda Briggs March 2017]