“A masterclass in simplicity and stunning individual performances”
RENT is one of my absolute favourite musicals, and I was very excited to see a full length version of it at the year’s Fringe. I’ve seen it many times in many guises, and this one offered a fresh approach, performed on a thrust stage for a more immersive experience. In some ways this interpretation packed real musical theatre punch, but unfortunately it fell flat in others.
In many ways this was a production of two halves. The first half, on the whole, was somewhat mediocre, with a few missed notes, some questionable staging (particularly in the support group scenes) and some rather “wooden” performances – Today 4 U in particular seemed a bit awkward and forced. Yet something completely flipped in the second half, and apart from the death scene that really should have been cut, it was a masterclass in both simplicity and stunning individual performances.
What I felt often held the show back was a real sense of grit and connection with the material – the opening number about the horrors of being made homeless seemed to be more mildly annoying to the actors rather than traumatic; while some of the dancing seemed clumsy and could have been sacrificed in favour of a simpler, stripped back approach. Perhaps I’m being harsh, but given how spectacular the second half was in comparison to the first, it’s clear that this company does have the ability to dazzle.
I must highlight this performance’s real triumphs. La Vie Boheme/I Should Tell you was a very powerful ensemble number and arrangement, with a genuine sense of life and passion that had been missing up until that point. In the second half, the duet Take Me or Leave Me was both incredibly staged and incredibly sung with intense grit and emotion, while the funeral scene was the stand out moment of the show. Performed with heart-wrenching rawness, it is one of the best versions of this section of the show that I have ever seen.
Rob Young as Collins was stunning throughout, with a smooth and souly voice, layered with emotion and depth. Hannah Simpson as Maureen was also very impressive, with an original take on the “drama queen”, making her cheeky and very likeable, while also delivering with a stunning vocal performance. Special mention should also go to Stephanie Marie Napier as Mimi, who struggled slightly on the higher notes in Take Me Out, but delivered all of her other songs with real gusto.
Overall, this is a very commendable effort from New Horizons Theatre Company, with some very exciting stand out moments. I hope to see them back at the Fringe next year with an even more impressive production.
Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 14 August)