by Gemma Gibson
The classic 1993 rock musical Rent was taken on by Act One earlier this week, and every night greeted by laughter, tears, and standing ovations, the University’s acting society have created and performed yet another masterpiece. A combination of love, hardship, work, friendship, and a need for equality and acceptance, all coated with a sprinkle of 80s flair, Jonathon Larson’s Rent tells the story of a group of artists trying to make a life for themselves in New York City, meanwhile tackling the AIDS epidemic.
Being a musical it is up to a huge array of songs to tell a story and keep the progression of a show clear and fluid, but this was no trouble for the carefully selected and talented Act One cast. Mimi’s ballsy, sensual and fun solo Out Tonight, the passion behind Take Me or Leave Me from both Maureen and Joanne, and Angel’s chaotic routine of drops, turns and splits in Today 4 U left the audience singing and dancing, while fully understanding themes and concepts arising in the story. And of course, Seasons of Love brought a tear to everyone’s eye, a member of the chorus singing notes that Mariah Carey would be jealous of. Directed by Katie Dougan and Rebecca Miles and produced by Tom Ward, the show imitates the original sensation perfectly through dancing on tables, Angel’s unexpected yet mesmerizing transformation into drag complete with red coat and zebra-print tights, and of course Maureen’s ground-breaking Over the Moon.
Every personality in Rent is so unique but so crucial and significant to the story, and thanks to Act One these characters were brought to life effortlessly. As Mark hurried around the stage with camera in hand and Roger so evidently struggled an internal fight with his secret, every actor appeared so natural in their character it was like they were born to play these parts. And a huge well done to the ensemble who adopted a variety of characters, usually more than likely adding the comical elements to the performance. As well as this the level of professionalism from both cast, crew, and band were of a great standard; while at times microphones were quiet or there was microphone feedback the team were not distracted but stayed completely committed to their role.
The cleverly designed set, from the graffitied walls to Mimi’s candle, emphasised the time and Bohemian area that this narrative was based around, enabling the audience to become a part of it all. It truly emphasised the character’s struggles thus making the audience more understanding of their lifestyles as the story unfolded. The use of curtains throughout the performance as well really added texture and differentiated a change in scene most effectively.
As well as a phenomenal cast, credit must be given to the band who kept the play alive through providing the music this 80s hit inevitably needs. After all what 80s song is complete without a live guitar? Scene changes were made much more entertaining and flawless with small instrumental snippets of music.
The emotional rollercoaster that is Rent touches the heart of anyone that watches it, and this rendition is not an exception. You fall in love with every character (even Benny) and you’ll just want to watch it live again and again. Well done Act One for introducing Rent to a younger generation and keeping the controversial topics powerful, relevant and thoroughly entertaining.