Theatre in Wales

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Pulsating End-of-Year Show

At RWCMD

Richard Burton Company- Rent , Bute Theatre RWCMD , December 12, 2013
At RWCMD by Richard Burton Company- Rent Two and a half hours separate the curtain call of “Rent” from the lights going down for the opening of “Love and Information.” If Caryl Churchill’s script is an astringent letter from a hyper-connected world, “Rent” is a despatch from another century. Hannah Dakin’s design for Jonathan Larson’s 1996 musical is a dark graffiti-ed New York of gantries, hooded muggers and frozen lofts. It is unlikely that the sleek Manhattan of 2013 Google-ites has a boho corner left, where the tenants heat themselves a little with wood burning in an open oil drum. A much-publicised “Singin’ in the Rain” is down at the WMC- it’s no doubt bigger and glitzier, but hard to conceive the production values exceed those in director Bruce Guthrie’s “Rent.”

It is a rare character among Larson's group of artists who has access to a mobile phone. The one on stage is the size of a forearm. The distant parents, like Yasmin Galloway’s Mrs Davis, have their AT&T fixed-line phones with their metres of flex that the UK’s Post Office never indulged in. The Manhattanites make do with the much-abused payphone in the street or lobby. Mark, the film-maker, invariably holds his clunky Super-8 cine camera.

Katie Underhay’s costume design creates a New York winter of duffle coats, big parkas, woolly bobble hats and rainbow-striped scarves. The most significant difference between that era and now is that young urban men do not die on a near-epidemic scale. The death of Kayed Mohamed-Mason’s flamboyant Angel, his body raw with the marks of Kaposi’s sarcoma, makes for a sombre late scene

Even on a Tuesday afternoon the Bute Theatre has a fizz to it. It is partly because the company are members of an elite course with just days left to run, partly because a matinee is a good time for agents to visit. Amongst the audience is a different kind of watcher, programme open, pen poised to make under-linings and crosses as each cast member reveals a new talent. The quality of the singing is universally of high quality; from the ensemble Claire Iona Ramsay impresses.

“Rent” is a good choice of musical. It gives a large cast a lot to do although the composer is never going to be ranked too highly among lyricists. “Pure” does nor rhyme with “door” or “floor” nor “jam” with “man” and “can”. They do not rhyme, full stop. “Who do you think you are/ Barging in on me and my guitar?” is not quite the libretto that Puccini got for his original. But the rock medium does allow the unleashing of rawness and energy. “La Vie Boheme B”, which brings the first half to a climactic close, wows with its exultant sybaritism. “Rent” is also in a sense a Christmas show, albeit with a very different kind of Santa in glittery hotpants. “Joy to the World” and “Little Town of Bethlehem” infiltrate the declarative rock.

Melvin J Cox’s cool musician Roger and Morgan Cambs’ grungy Mimi both have big voices for their big act one duet. Duncan Drury’s Tom Collins gets the quiet desolation of the AIDS patient. Vikki Bebb is an explosive Maureen for her big solo “Over the Moon.” In a big, loud, accomplished show my favourite number has to be Tom Sankey and Nicola Dee doing the “Tango: Maureen.” To dance, sing and act all at once is one level of accomplishment. To project the feeling that you are loving it as well, that is a rare talent.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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