Sometimes it takes a second viewing of a particular show for me to really love it. I saw the Tabard Theatre’s production of Rent in 2013, so I wasn’t going to bother with the 20th anniversary UK tour, directed by Bruce Guthrie. However, I’d heard so many good things about it that I relented and headed to the last night of the tour at the Assembly Hall, Tunbridge Wells, of all places. I am so glad I did, because it was everything I could have ever wanted from a production of Rent, and cemented it as one of my favourite musicals.
The staging and set is heavily influenced by the 90s, evoking the time and place in which the musical is set. The songs sound wonderful and are done full justice by the band and performers. Philippa Stefani is a superb Mimi, evoking her character’s passion and personality, and with a gorgeous voice that makes numbers like ‘Out Tonight’ really stand out. Her lover, Roger,and his flatmate, narrator Mark, are portrayed well by Ross Hunter and Billy Cullum, and I particularly liked Ryan O’Gorman as Tom and Layton Williams as Angel. Not to mention recent Eurovision hopeful Lucie Jones as Maureen and Shanay Holmes as Joanne.
It’s a bit rough round the edges – probably owing to the tragic death of the composer Jonathan Larson, who died suddenly on the eve of the first preview, meaning that the normal process whereby a new show is tweaked and adapted in previews was bypassed. This only adds to the shows charm though, and I got the impression that director Bruce Guthrie really understood it and what it was trying to say.
I absolutely loved this production, and it was well worth the trek to a different town. I only hope it comes back to London in some capacity.