I always commend a theatre company for taking on the challenge of such a raw, emotional and (in its time) controversial musical. Entering the Carriageworks Theatre I was pleased to see that LIDOS (Leeds Insurance Dramatic & Operatic Society) had stayed true to tradition and built an excellent set, reminiscent of New York’s East Village in the early 90s. Pipe scaffolding lined the stage, separating levels and various locations for the musical. This was covered in old band posters, graffiti and murky looking windows, perhaps foreshadowing the harsh living environments outside.
RENT is a classic rock opera, loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème and follows a group of artists living in the flourishing days of Bohemian Alphabet City. This group of artists, friends and lovers are struggling to cope with the pressures to conform put on them by society, as they experience love, loss, addiction, homelessness, sexuality and disease. First opening in 1996 Off-Broadway, RENT was extremely controversial for its time as it showed audiences the raw truth of life in the city, it forced the public to recognise the ‘American Dream’ doesn’t always come true.
From the opening sequence, Robert Stott truly understood his complex role of Roger; a character numb to life and struggling to move forward. Scott showed a sense of unity with this role, delivering his lines with full belief and sincerity. I found Scott to be one of the stronger singers in the cast, as he achieved the passionate yet broken emotions within his musical numbers. Roger’s relationship with his best friend was strengthened by Paul Londsdale’s performance of the endearing Mark. Through the use of regular eye contact and powerful vocal tones, the audience witnessed the transformation of this friendship, as the characters were forced to adapt to modern day life. In addition, Alan Wright demonstrated an extremely delicate and emotional performance in his role of Collins. This role requires a suitable personality balance of butch masculinity with a more tender loving side brought out through his relationships and the great loss within his life.
For an amateur production, I was very impressed with the commitment and talent witnessed within the ensemble. RENT requires a lot of multi-role and vocal harmonies from the ensemble and they succeeded in this challenge throughout. Unfortunately, the technical sound element of the production did work against the talent on stage; the live band which are placed on stage to create a rock concert atmosphere were projected far too quiet, leaving vocal layering and harmonies extremely exposed. There were also a number of missed microphone cues which was disappointing as the ensemble were perfectly in time with the complicated vocal layering but this couldn’t be appreciated by the audience. Megan Bassett and Beth Rowett did, however, manage to project their powerful voices around the sound difficulties and their portrayal of Maureen and Joanne’s turbulent relationship was truly excellent.
As RENT is my all-time favorite musical I do tend to approach any performance with a critical eye, and last night was an assortment of opinions for me both as an audience member and theatre reviewer. The accuracy, emotion and vocal performances along with the technical elements in the second half far exceeded those witnessed in the first half. However, I don’t want the technical difficulties to influence my opinions of the cast because there was clear talent on stage within the amateur company. The cast seemed to truly grasp the key message of ‘no day but today’ within the musical and the emotional ensemble finale was nothing but exceptional.
Reviewer: Christine-Jane Parkes
Reviewed: 12th September 2017