RENT review: “unique, poignant and raw”

By Kathryn Tann

RENT is not an easy option. Faced with unconventional devices, challenging vocals and hard-hitting themes, DULOG have managed to capture the rock opera’s unique and addictive atmosphere.

It feels right to start with the set, because it was the first thing I saw and the first thing to really impress. The fail-safe posters and graffiti pasted around the stage were done well, and when combined with a set reminiscent of that New York fire escape and strings of lights (which I particularly loved), the whole thing did feel like a scruffy little corner of urban bohemia.

The bold decision to have open wings made for a perfectly imperfect aesthetic. It allowed for the fluidity of song and scene transitions, and for the ‘raw’ effect which creative director Rosie Dart was aiming to establish. It also suited the abrupt act openings (no classic pre-show music here) and having the band onstage only furthered this casual charm. This was another of my favourite decisions, as the band’s presence made the score feel much more involved in the action, yet didn’t distract from it. Overall, this embraced absence of theatrical convention tied up DULOG’s RENT in a way which forgave a few of its less intentional rough edges.

Understandably, this was not one of DULOG’s most polished performances. And of course, it is my role as generic reviewer to point out those first-night teething problems. I won’t go as far as to criticise mic-related glitches (who cares?), but it is worth mentioning that a good chunk of the dialogue and lyrics were difficult to make out due to sound imbalances and some hasty diction. The most noticeable ‘rough edges’ for me, however, were the occasional moments of awkwardness in choreography and blocking. Whether the actors needed more direction or more rehearsals I couldn’t tell, but the first ensemble number (Rent), for instance, felt a little clumsy. Creases such as these did begin to iron out as the energy picked up, however, and so those age-old first night nerves could be more to blame than anything else.

Certain flaws were harder to pin merely to nerves. Angel’s blocking in Today 4 U felt rushed and a little laboured, and though Luke Blacklock’s performance was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience, the point of the scene (i.e. the story about the dog) was somewhat sacrificed. Other slightly scruffy moments included the tango in Tango: Maureen, and Kane Taylor’s almost comic attempts at the beginning of the show to appear as though he could play the guitar (though his and Singleton’s brilliant vocals forgave all). Again, I could tell that many of these examples are down to a lack of time. Polish was all they needed, and perhaps in places a little more direction. Unfortunately achieving a ‘raw’ and natural effect in a musical sometimes requires even more manicuring than usual, rather than less.

There were, however, many shining moments in DULOG’s RENT. The absolute highlight for me was La Vie Boheme. It was the best of DULOG in a single song. I got the impression that the cast found their feet during this section of the show. They began to bounce off one another far more confidently, and as the whole cast crowded together, the audience was met with an astoundingly vibrant sound. I also particularly enjoyed the use of the table for the synchronised movements at the beginning of this number. The scene had that professional finish which DULOG productions so often impress us with.

Another highlight was Rosie Weston’s hilarious performance of Over the Moon. She brought an energy to the stage that was welcomed by all. Part of the skill of the show was in its ability to present us with colour and comedy such as this, alongside contrasting moments of truth and tragedy, such as Raphael Chinwuko’s (Collins) sobering version of I’ll Cover You in memory of Angel.

The impressive ensemble should be commended for providing some of the strongest moments of the show. Glimpses of incredible talent shone through on a number of occasions, my only wish being that we could have seen more.

Ultimately, RENT is an opportunity for singers to show off, and though they may not have given their most professional performance, DULOG certainly did just this. A critical eye could tell it was a production put together with limited time, but that didn’t stop it from capturing the unique atmosphere of this poignant story, and doing justice to such a treasured musical.

And finally, what did I think of Seasons of Love? Only that it was over far too quickly.

DULOG’s RENT will be playing in the Assembly Rooms Theatre at 7:30pm until the 11th November, with an additional matinee performance on the Saturday at 2:30pm.

Photograph: DULOG production team

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