Rent, Young Musical Theatre Company Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre, Taunton

JONATHAN  Larson’s rock opera (not musical; quite apart from its source in Puccini, the whole structure of the piece is distinctly operatic with its almost total lack of spoken dialogue and 19th-century-style recitatives) is probably the most successful and influential work of its kind of the last fifty years; it’s been described as speaking to, and for, the nineties as Hair did for the sixties.

I’m afraid I find it hard to see what all the fuss is about.

The first act, in particular, is over long and lacking in development both musically (the rather splendid ‘Tango Maureen’ being a notable exception) and in terms of plot, and the central duo of Roger and Mimi are underdeveloped as characters. (The other two relationships are much more engaging; and Mark, the narrator and aspiring film-maker, is also a nicely drawn character). The second act is shorter, more focused, more melodious and has some truly moving moments; but I don’t see why Larson saw a need to change Puccini’s ending.

But whatever one’s reservations about the material, the Young Musical Theatre Company’s production can hardly be faulted. The set is well-designed, versatile and nicely tacky, and the placement of the band inside a tenement building so that they’re inconspicuous but thoroughly audible is a nice touch.

The cast are well chosen and all have fine voices: Ian Pring brings great intensity to the part of Roger (a character I feel we never really get to know despite his extensive stage time, so quite a testing assignment); Charlie Hamilton is beautiful, seductive and slinky as the sexually manipulative waif Mimi and shows her agility in a terrifying sequence on the high bars. Rob Tilke is excellent as the lynchpin Mark; flame-haired Paige Brunton is perfect for the flamboyant performance artiste Maureen; James Newton and George Heath are touchingly spot-on as the chalk-and-cheese but made for each other Collins and Angel – Angel’s last scene is a tear-jerker (though his mic did seem to be turned down a bit low in his first-act solo).

Leah Farmer is likewise excellent as Maureen’s long-suffering agent/girlfriend, and Jonny Leach and Cameron Isherwood, in smaller parts but doubling up extensively as cops/bystanders/etc, both display fine voices and fling themselves into the physical aspects of theatre with great gusto. The teamwork in the ensemble scenes is outstanding.



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