Hope Mill Theatre’s brilliant revival of Jonathan Larson’s classic rock musical of the AIDS era, with powerhouse performances from a talented cast including Blake Patrick Anderson as Mark, Millie O’Connell as Maureen, Maiya Quansah-Breed as Mimi, Dom Hartley-Harris as Tom Collins, and a rocking debut from Tom Francis as Roger.
Directed by Luke Sheppard and MD’d by Katy Richardson, this is a stripped-down production for a large stage, filmed on the last performance of five before Manchester theatres closed under tier 3 Covid restrictions. The plot of an insidious plague made worse by political inertia may well be as resonant today as it was when this musical was written in 1996.
Bubbled together, the cast does not have to stay socially distant, meaning that some scenes including those between Collins and Angel (a touching bit from Alex Thomas-Smith) work just that bit better, and the sense of community, reaching out, and not knowing what will happen tomorrow is beautifully evoked through the pulsing music and the set pieces.
Rent may be weak on actual plot – it takes some inspiration from the opera La Boheme – but it has a score which, although it does root itself firmly in the 1990s, continues to get an audience toe-tapping and feeling just that little bit of emotional connection.
The Hope Mill Theatre, just a tiny performance space up north, continues to punch above its weight, and long may that continue. Following on from the release of a cast album for their production of Rags, I very much hope this version of Rent is available for everyone to enjoy.
Rent Online is streaming until the 20 December (UK only) – book from £25 at https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/rent-online. The show runs for two and a half hours.
Images by Pamela Raith.