Theatre Review: RENT – Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester [ONLINE]

Blake Patrick Anderson (Mark) and the Company of RENT at Hope Mill Theatre.

The Company of RENT at Hope Mill Theatre. Photo Credit: Pamela Raith

Luke Sheppard’s sensational revival of RENT surges with life, passion and a fighting spirit that feels particularly poignant in the current climate

5 out of 5 stars

It’s fair to say that, of all the sectors Coronavirus has impacted, theatre is one of the worst-hit. Nothing demonstrates this more than Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre latest production of RENT. After months of gruelling rehearsals and countless costly measures to make the theatre Covid-secure, the award-winning regional theatre was forced to close after just one public performance, the producers turning to the power of streaming to finally get their show in front of an audience.

Yet, if ever there was a right time to stage a revival of Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical about the transformative power of hope and love, it is now. The parallels are here for all to see, as a group of impoverished young artists struggle to survive and create a life, under the shadow of a killer disease.

Tom Francis (Roger) and Blake Patrick Anderson (Mark) in RENT at Hope Mill Theatre

Tom Francis (Roger) & Blake Patrick Anderson (Mark) in RENT at Hope Mill Theatre. Photo: Pamela Raith

The action takes place in Manhattan 1989 with David Woodhead’s stripped back and rustic set exposing the bleakness of the situation and Howard Hudson’s red, white and blue lighting ominously signalling the danger that surrounds our young characters. It all sounds pretty bleak, but this is a show that show pulsates with life, colour and passion. There is a fighting spirit that surges through Luke Sheppard’s sensational revival, making Larson’s powerful rock score and Tom Jackson Greaves’ choreography feel even more infectious and anthemic.

But it is the cast performances which truly ignite this production, the ensemble of 12 perform as if their lives depend on it. It’s difficult to single anyone out here as they are all so good but Maiya Quansah-Breed deserves a mention for her electrifying performance as Mimi in OUT TONIGHT, as does Tom Francis, who delivers an incredible professional debut performance as Roger.

Tom Francis (Roger) and Maiya Quansah-Breed (Mimi) in RENT at Hope Mill Theatre.

Tom Francis (Roger) and Maiya Quansah-Breed (Mimi) in RENT at Hope Mill Theatre. Photo: Pamela Raith

Those familiar with RENT will know that the show’s breathless pacing and unrelenting intensity is pretty full-on and you’ll need to move away from the screen during the interval, if only just to catch your breath.

Yet, while nothing will ever beat the thrill of live theatre, the team at Hope Mill Theatre have done an excellent job of bringing this show from stage to screen. In fact, the close-up shots that the filmed version offers only serve to enhance the magnetic storytelling and performances of the show even more.

RENT may have been conceived nearly three decades ago but its underlying themes of hope, love and fighting spirit feels particularly poignant in the current climate. Get yourself a ticket, you won’t regret it.

RENT [Online] runs at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester until 20 December 2020.