After almost three years in the making, a short run in 2020 which became a casualty of COVID-19 and a very successful online run, RENT at Hope Mill is back and it is explosive, imaginative and full of character.
The stage is open with a very minimal set, but it needs no more as the storytelling fills the space and makes the room feel full.
As the cast enter and take their seats around the edge of the stage area, you can feel the buzz and excitement in the room, a full capacity audience ready to soak in the story, the music, the love.
As soon as the song ‘Rent’ began, you could feel the electricity in the room as the whole stage came to life and we were taken on a journey of friendship, love, life and loss.
The cast were visible the whole time, whether on the stage or not and they added so much to the action on the stage, creating the feeling of involvement and love, cheering each other along and showing emotion when called for.
The cast of 13 are made up of eight main character and five featured ensemble and the talent portrayed was some of the highest I’ve witnessed. The five featured ensemble create the beating heart of the show, playing many characters, moving set pieces, costume pieces, choreographed perfectly and helping to keep the show moving smoothly.
Direction by Luke Sheppard was clever and inventive, bringing in new things that I’ve never seen done before in Rent like the use of candle and flame between on stage and off stage cast to show continuation of fire and love/lust and the subtle use of the character April that was used a few times throughout which brought a memory to life but used in a very clever way.
Choreography by Tom Jackson Greaves was absolute perfection, maybe some of the best choreography I’ve ever witnessed. It was creative, punchy and so tight yet allowing each performer to add a little individuality to it. You could feel every movement and it was hard to sit still, wanting to move along with them.
The main cast were phenomenal, with six cast members returning from the 2020 cast and two new actors joining. They were tight, together and worked as a unit to tell this important story.
Tom Francis embodies Roger, playing the haunted character with grit and torment, the most incredible voice, and a joy to watch off stage too, delivering the choreography with such conviction and passion. Millie O’Connell completely stole the show for me as Maureen, a character that appears quite late into the first act but absolutely shone with attitude, incredible vocals and phenomenal characterisation.
The bond within this cast was real and strong but Angel (Alex Thomas-Smith) and Collins (Dom Hartley-Harris) took it to a new level, and the moment they first locked hands, a jolt of emotion hit me right in the heart and it was joyous. Thomas-Smith’s ‘Today for You’ was a joy to witness, they gave everything to it and their portrayal of this loveable character made me love them more. Hartley-Harris ‘I’ll Cover You reprise’ left me an emotional wreck, delivered with such love and conviction.
Rent is about love, acceptance and embracing everything so I thought it fitting that we witnessed professional debuts of several cast members.
Lighting by Howard Hudson was incredible, taking your focus to different parts of the space yet not completely blocking the surrounding areas and the use of projection was genius, especially in ‘Out Tonight’ so a huge well done to George Reeve on a brilliant design.
Rent wouldn’t work without live music and the band were absolutely phenomenal. Lead on stage by Chris Poon, it was great to see they were visible for the majority of the show as they are just as integral to the story as every other part of it.
RENT is the show that is needed after the tough times of the last 16 months, I urge you to grab your tickets now before it sells out. https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/rent
Reviewer: Damian Riverol
Reviewed: 8th August 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★