Review: Young company on the money with Rent

Pushing the boundaries: Rent. Photograph: NUEMusicTheatre / Ben Priest
20 Jul 2013 @ 12.18 pm
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Pushing the boundaries: Rent. Photograph: NUEMusicTheatre / Ben Priest
Pushing the boundaries: Rent. Photograph: NUEMusicTheatre / Ben Priest

Review: Rent by NUEMusicTheatre
Venue: Upstage Centre, July 18

An acquaintance of mine is lying on the floor, clutching a bottle, and telling me in his finest New York accent that he can see my “ass.” Undoubtedly true, and not a rare occurrence; however on this occasion he’s performing in Rent with NUEMusicTheatre at 41 Monkgate, and not at the bottom of The Willow stairs.

I secretly love musicals. But I’m not ashamed to say that I absolutely adore Rent. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s about a group of down on their luck artists, living with AIDS, addiction, and struggling to come to terms with their own expiration dates.

There are transexuals, gay couples, and inspirational songs at every chance. Think Philadelphia meets Mamma Mia. And even that incredible comparison doesn’t do it justice.

It’s certainly a brave choice for such a new company, and a youth company too. To go straight in with such a well loved piece is indeed risky. But it’s paid off. It’s more than paid off. It exceeded my expectations in every way possible.

The simplicity of the set at 41 Monkgate made way for voices worthy of a far bigger stage, and not one out shone the other. I kept trying to figure out who had stolen the show, but every time I thought I’d cracked it someone else gave me goosebumps – no mean feat in a room so hot every song was accompanied by incessant fanning. Those £2 programmes were more of a health investment than anything.

Rent certainly pushes the boundaries, which is why I think it’s a mature choice for youth theatre. Brazen gay kisses, drug abuse, and mild nudity are handled appropriately, proving – to me at least – that these aren’t just a group of kids messing about. This isn’t a joke, this is really where their futures lie.

Maureen, protester, artist, bohemian extraordinaire, is played by Robyn Grant, and I just kept thinking what a role model she was. To be honest, I hadn’t seen Rent since High School (and I’m 24 in two weeks – pencil it in.) I remember Maureen being annoying and childish. Tonight I felt she was a free thinking woman, doing what she wants when she wants, and I really loved her.

I thought Robyn was the perfect choice for her, she’s a woman that makes an impact. Ever optimistic transvestite, Angel is portrayed by Jed Berry, who as well as being fantastic, walks in heels better than I could ever hope to. And he made me cry. Once again, no mean feat in a room so hot my finger tips were sweating.

I implore you to see Rent, preferably by NUEMusicTheatre, but if not you must find another way. If nothing else, it will help you live your life by the lyric “forget regret, or life is yours to miss.” AIDS or no AIDS, time is ticking for everyone. Stop talking about it, and just do it.