By Ellen Tapp
Walking into the buzzing rehearsal room at Elvet Riverside, I am immediately greeted with Luke Blacklock, who plays Angel, trying on his bright red knee-length boots and animal print skirt. This image is accompanied by the low murmur of the cast muttering over lines or cues, ready for the evening’s run-through of RENT.
RENT, a rock musical by Jonathan Larson, explores the hardships faced by young artists in New York. At first consideration, its storyline is based on how HIV and AIDS casts a shadow over society. Aside from this immediate understanding of the struggles faced by these individuals at the time, the underlying, implicit message relates to how the people ‘live through their art’. The show is a, “celebration of doing what you can with life, love, friendship, and the importance of people,” comments creative director, Rosie Dart, on her interpretation of what the musical is truly about.
Put together in just 3 weeks, the dedicated cast and crew have had their schedules full to the brim of all things RENT. I got the chance to speak briefly with first-year Robert Singleton; who has banked the role of Mark in his debut appearance at the Assembly Rooms. In such a short turnaround, characterisation would be, for any actor, challenging to achieve. Singleton puts the cast’s foolproof and undeniable understanding of their characters and situations down to director Dart, admitting that her method of writing a character backstory and researching character backgrounds’ in the initial rehearsals was a means of avoiding the assumption that characterisation would simply happen to come together with time. I couldn’t agree more with Singleton when he states, “in a production like this, you’ve got to make the most of it”; RENT is a multi-award winning, world-renowned musical. To put in any less than 100% would be foolish.
The technical team have also been pulling their weight to make this performance a resounding success. Although we don’t always physically see this or appreciate it; a show just couldn’t happen without these people. I got goosebumps just watching a snippet of the performance without any costumes, sound, lighting or set so I am beyond ecstatic to experience the full collaboration next week and see all these constituent elements combine to become one.
“One of the most ambitious, self-built projects that DULOG has ever done’, Becky Brookes, (assistant technical director) puts it. As she branches away from the rehearsal, she shares with me some of her plans made in conjunction with Peter Noble (technical director) and Jonny Browning (lighting director) for her first time being involved with the technical side of a musical. Get ready for a wingless, stripped-back theatre with iconic 6-foot scaffolding to reflect traditional interpretations of the production, decorated with bohemian additions to reflect the artistic nature of each character and bring colour to the typical industrial feel. Rosie Weston, cast as the eccentric, egotistical Maureen, shares how she thinks the idea of having no wings is inspired as it forces you to always stay in the mindset of your character: “it just feels really real, not like we are in a show; I’ve never felt that way before”.
From my own experience, I can appreciate how much technical aspects and audience reactions enhance acting. Even without these factors, the cast put their all into their full run and delivered a gripping performance; I can only imagine how wonderful it will be when these extra elements step the energy up a notch.
So get your nose out of that textbook and to the Assembly Rooms next week for an evening of guaranteed enjoyment.
RENT is showing at the Assembly Rooms for November 8th. Buy tickets here
Photograph: DULOG production team