As someone who has experienced RENT in as many different ways as possible, the twentieth anniversary concert performance was certainly one of the most memorable. The First Act was riddled with apparent technical difficulties, possibly explained away by this performance being show number two of their UK tour. The actors’ microphones were intermittent, failing to be turned on in time for their cues and the beginnings of songs were lost in the lack of volume and the overpowering backing music. The transitions into new songs contained awkward breaks that continued for that fraction of a second too long whilst the lighting was delayed at times, leaving actors singing on a dark stage with no spotlight to guide the audience.
Nevertheless, when the tech went right, the performances were almost unparalleled. The technical difficulties were mostly fixed by the beginning of the second half, allowing for the actors to really throw themselves into their roles ready for the emotional finale. Though at times the music was far too loud for the production and forced the actors to practically shout their lines in order to be heard over the top, there is no denying the sheer brilliance of this cast’s ability to sing; a cast which included ITV talent show runner-up Rory Taylor as Roger and former-Atomic Kitten member Natasha Hamilton as Maureen. The moments of the production when backing music was at a minimum and actors were able to show off their voices produced some of the best performances of the entire show. Leon Lopez’s performance of ‘I’ll Cover You (Reprise)’ was a particularly spectacular stand out moment of the play but it was Rachel John’s performance as Mimi that really stole the show throughout.
The audience were fairly forgiving.
Any anniversary concert is inevitably developed with the fans in mind. This production’s decision to cut down songs and skip over some of the most recognisable lines of the play was definitely noticed by the audience. However from the moment you sat down and saw the on-stage screen with a projection quoting ‘La Vie Boheme’, the excitement for the occasion took over and the audience were fairly forgiving in what was otherwise a faithful performance.
The atmosphere in the auditorium throughout truly shows that RENT is a play that promotes a physical reaction within its audiences.
When the entire audience is so familiar with the play that they know exactly what is going to happen, there is extra pressure on the cast to perform well and perform right. This cast took on this responsibility brilliantly, in spite of the technical hitches holding them back, and brought new life to the characters not seen in a professional production since the Broadway show closed in 2008. This production was by no means perfect (though I’m hoping that the bumps will be smoothed out as the tour continues) but the atmosphere in the auditorium throughout truly shows that RENT is a play that promotes a physical reaction within its audiences.
The audience ending the show on their feet is testament to that.