This review will boil down to this: Bare Productions rendition of RENT is very good, and does absolute justice to Jonathan Larson’s perpetual cult hit. Now, those in theatrical circles (and maybe those outwith them), are aware that after a titanic opening in 1996, RENT has spent the intervening years dividing opinions. A modern (then) take on Puccini’s ‘La Boheme’, swapping out Consumption for HIV/AIDS, RENT follows the fortunes of a group of friends struggling to survive and thrive in New York City in 1989.
Progressive for the 90’s, RENT remains perhaps the most popular musical front and centring so many LGBTQI+ characters, and if it is guilty of glamourising poverty, its heart is in the right place. If Bare Productions, under experienced director Dominic Lewis, weren’t quite so good, the narrative flaws would loom larger. However, Bare Production are very good indeed, so it’s a fine night at the rock musical theatre.
The set it kept minimal, and frankly that’s fine for RENT, after all we are supposed to be dealing with a group of people, mostly without the proverbial pot to p*iss in. The cast are excellent to a person, and the sharp eyed will recognise several Edinburgh amateur dramatic stalwarts. If the am-dram term concerns you, settle down, because Auld Reekie is blessed with outstanding operations, and Laura Green, in the ensemble here led out a phenomenal Legally Blonde – The Musical for Allegro last year.
This RENT’s most valuable player, is however – without question – Rory McKeon as drag queen, all around good person, and tragic soul, Angel. They literally light up the stage everytime they appear, just as the character is supposed to, so bravo! It’s impressive, not least as there are no weak links amidst the rest of the cast. The romance is sold with conviction, the tragedy never shied away from.
Just as critically, the live band under Finlay Turnbull are tight, on point, and well-balanced. This RENT sounds good, the big numbers handled with utter ease.
Lewis has also coordinated a very well choreographed show. Sure, RENT doesn’t call for an excess of dance, but there’s a fluidity to the drama, and the comings and goings of the characers which speaks to long hours of practice, and a sharp eye for detail. RENT is beset by lots of mini-interventions from minor characters, which can feel intrusive and confusing in some productions. Not here.
Thus, just as predicted: Bare Productions rendition of RENT is very good, and does absolute justice to Jonathan Larson’s perpetual cult hit. If you love RENT, you’ll be more than satisfied. If you’ve never seen it, then it’s a fine introduction.