Tag Archives: Hope Mill Theatre

Rent

Rent

★★★★★

Online via Hope Mill Theatre

Rent

Rent

Online via Hope Mill Theatre

Reviewed – 24th November 2020

★★★★★

 

“At over two hours long, Luke Sheppard’s punchy direction never lets the show drag for a second”

 

The story behind the inception and eventual opening of “Rent” twenty-five years ago is almost worthy of a musical in itself. Waiting on tables in Manhattan ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ neighbourhood amid the homelessness, punks, addicts and drag queens, young composer Jonathan Larson sweated through the nights writing hundreds of songs, most of which wouldn’t make it to the final cut. When it finally reached its premiere, it attracted press attention on account of opening night falling exactly one hundred years after Puccini’s “La Bohème”, on which “Rent” is loosely based. Leaving the offices of The New York Times, Larson was upbeat, enjoying the dizziness of first night nerves. But that dizziness was concealing a misdiagnosed condition. Larson never made it to the theatre that evening.

Over quarter of a century later Larson’s legacy still continues to burst with energy each time it is revived on the stage. The Hope Mill Theatre’s production is no exception with its intimate and raw staging that is fresh and unique while still remaining faithful to the qualities that powered its original success on Broadway. It’s been a tough journey for the creative team. Scheduled to run this summer, lockdown pushed that back to October, only for it to close after five nights. But before the theatre went dark again it was captured on film by the innovative film company ‘The Umbrella Rooms’ and can now be seen online for a limited period.

The show’s raggle-taggle narrative centres on the tangle of mangled romantic friendships, telling the story of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and avoid eviction; particularly aspiring film maker, Mark, and his song-writer flatmate Roger, who is struggling to complete his ‘one great song’. Characterisation and plot may spend most of the time in the wings, but it is the music that grabs the spotlight, and the fiery dynamism that the cast bring onto the stage. During production, the cast all lived together in a (very noisy) twelve-bedroom house, and the chemistry, conviction and commitment that this would generate clearly shows. Nobody ever leaves the stage, and when not directly in the thick of it the cast watch from the shadows, still acting and reacting.

At over two hours long, Luke Sheppard’s punchy direction never lets the show drag for a second; turbo charged by Musical Director Chris Poon and his pumping five-piece rock band; and Tom Jackson Greaves’ sawtooth sharp choreography. There are a lot of numbers in this show and the cast are on a mission to get through them all. The breathlessness gives way to moments of humour, which in turn bleed into the sad songs, which is where the true emotional kick is felt. Dom Hartley-Harris, as the vagabond anarchist Tom Collins, cuts the atmosphere, and your heart, with a knife during the beautiful ‘I’ll Cover You’ at the funeral of his lover, Angel; powerfully played by the velvet-voiced Alex Thomas-Smith. Millie O’Connell is wonderfully eccentric as experimental performance artist, Maureen, who meets her match in lover Joanne (Jocasta Almgill) during the wonderful ‘Take Me or Leave Me’. Maiya Quansah-Breed’s Mimi commands the space with a sassy swagger weighed down by vulnerability and addiction, while Ahmed Hamad relishes his Ebenezer arc from bad guy to good as Benny. This is a show where the chorus is as crucial as the principals, and the vast array of talent is on clear display throughout. Featured ensemble Kayla Carter, for example, bursts through into the foreground with stunning, soaring vocals during ‘Seasons of Love’, the anthemic opener to the second act.

Central to the story are the joint protagonists, Mark and Roger. Blake Patrick Anderson’s performance illuminates the stage, extremely comfortable and assured with complete control of the soaring notes he aims so high for. Tom Francis is equally memorable as the more brooding songsmith, Roger, eventually finding his muse in Mimi. As he sings the achingly beautiful ‘Your Eyes’ we wonder if it is all too late.

“Rent” is the real Fairy Tale of New York. Exhilarating and poignant. Over a quarter of a century old but still as fresh and timely as ever. “How do you measure a year in a life?” asks the lyrics in the iconic ‘Seasons of Love’. A lot of us are asking how we can measure this past year of ours. Whatever conclusion we make, “Rent” is certainly a fine conclusion to the year in the run up to Christmas, with its relevant, relatable and wretched optimism.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith

 

Rent

Online via Hope Mill Theatre until 20th December

 

Recently reviewed by Jonathan:
A Hero Of Our Time | ★★★★ | Stone Nest | September 2020
Buyer and Cellar | ★★★★ | Above the Stag | October 2020
The Great Gatsby | ★★★★★ | Immersive LDN | October 2020
The Last Five Years | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | October 2020
The Off Key | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | October 2020
What a Carve Up! | ★★★★★ | Online | October 2020
Little Wars | ★★★★ | Online | October 2020
Right Left With Heels | ★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Marry me a Little | ★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Falling Stars | ★★★★ | Online | November 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Rose

Rose

★★

Online

Rose

Rose

Online via hopemilltheatre.co.uk

Reviewed – 9th September 2020

★★

 

“There are glimpses of the grandeur of the journey”

 

Solo shows are hard. If there’s one thing that’s become more and more evident with every one-person play I see, it’s that. Sure, they can be easier to produce, but it seems trickier to capture the elements that make theatre crackle and pop. With only one actor, the energy between characters can be lost. With only one central character, often recounting the past, the script can lack a sense of momentum. And with only one point of view being presented, the overall production can feel thematically flat. Unfortunately, Rose falls victim to all of these trappings.

Written by Martin Sherman, Rose sees the titular character (portrayed by Maureen Lipman) relay her odyssey to the audience through the rise of the Third Reich to post-war America. As a Jewish woman, her relationship to her faith is frequently forced to be reckoned with, from the Russian village she grew up in through to the bustle of Miami. The detail into which Rose goes reveals a number of nuances into the ways in which Jewish culture and communities shifted over time and places, and provides a level of insight that isn’t often found on this scale. However, there is a lot of detail. Running at two hours, Rose sometimes feels like someone reading their Wikipedia page at you, as plot threads and tangents spring up all over the place and never feel like they’re tying together meaningfully, or that they’re contributing a great deal to the overall narrative.

Lipman gives a strong performance as Rose, albeit one that she seemed underprepared for, and is under-directed by Scott Le Crass. Certain sections meander, and the distances between the highs and lows feels too small at times, but there are some moments when Lipman rises above the confines of the format. There are a couple of scenes towards the end of the first act – one set on a boat, the other on a train – which are electrifying as the danger of the past is made to feel present in the retelling, and the urgency of the choices that had to be made land emotionally with the audience.

It’s all the more impressive that these moments connect as well as they do considering Lipman has no live audience to speak to. I expect there’s a reason we don’t see one-person films, and it’s because actors tell stories best when they have someone actively responding, whether that be an audience or fellow actors. Streamed from the Hope Mill Theatre, Rose has no-one in the room to engage with, and it suffers for it.

With antisemitism on the rise, Rose could be utterly vital. There are glimpses of the grandeur of the journey and the intimacy of the telling merging into something poignant and prescient, but the format of the play and this production feel ultimately unsuited to each other, instead serving only to highlight their shortcomings.

 

Reviewed by Ethan Doyle

Photography by Channel Eighty8

 

Rose

Online via hopemilltheatre.co.uk until 12th September

 

Previously reviewed by Ryan:
I Wanna be Yours | ★★★ | Bush Theatre | December 2019
Falling in Love Again | ★★ | King’s Head Theatre | January 2020
Four Play | ★★★ | Above The Stag | January 2020
The Guild | ★★★½ | The Vaults | January 2020
Far Away | ★★½ | Donmar Warehouse | February 2020
Republic | ★★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
Ryan Lane Will Be There Now In A Minute | ★★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
Big | | Network Theatre | March 2020
Stages | ★★★½ | Network Theatre | March 2020
Songs For A New World | ★★★ | Online | July 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews