Tag Archives: Rent




Online via Hope Mill Theatre



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



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


Rent’s Lucie Jones to appear on Eurovision: You Decide


The BBC has announced today that Lucie Jones is one of the six artists chosen to perform the songs competing for the UK’s entry into the Eurovision Song Contest.  Lucie will perform the song on Eurovision: You Decide, a show to be held at the Eventim Hammersmith Apollo on 27 January 2017 and broadcast live on BBC Two, presented by Mel Giedroyc.  The winner, who will be revealed on the night after a combined expert jury and live public vote, will then represent the UK at Eurovision, with the Grand Final on Saturday 13 May in Kyiv, Ukraine.


The ballad that Lucie is singing, Never Give Up On You, is the work of composers and lyricists The Treatment, Emmelie de Forest and Lawrie Martin, and can be heard now 

Lucie is currently starring as Maureen Johnson in the new 20th Anniversary production of Jonathan Larson’s ground-breaking Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning musical RENT.  The show is currently playing a sold-out season at St. James Theatre, London until 28 January and will then embark on a major UK tour until 27 May 2017. RENT has been nominated for Best Regional Production at the 17th Annual What’s on Stage Awards, taking place in London next month.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be invited to take part in Eurovision: You Decide. Never Give Up On You is an incredibly powerful song, especially when sung live! I can’t wait to perform it live on BBC Two on Friday night.”

Producer Robert Mackintosh said “On behalf of the producers of RENT, we are delighted that Lucie Jones has been selected to sing one of the six songs in the running to compete for UK’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.  Lucie is one of the UK’s brightest young talents and a valued company member. We wish her every success for Eurovision: You Decide this Friday.” 
Lucie was a finalist on The X Factor in 2009 and has most recently starred as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (Curve, Leicester).  Her other theatre credits include Molly Jenson on tour in Ghost the Musical, Victoria in American Psycho at The Almeida, Meatloaf in the International Tour of We Will Rock You and Cosette in Les Miserables at Queens Theatre, London’s West End and O2 Arena.  Lucie also toured the UK in The X Factor Arena Tour.


For full details of the Rent 20th Anniversary tour click here


 Production photograph by Matt Crockett