Friday 23 February 2024

RENT review

It's been almost 30 years since RENT had its world premiere. A critical success at the time, she show was also marred with its own tragedy when its creator Jonathan Larson died the night before opening night from an aortic dissection. It leaves a bittersweet taste as we watch a group of misfit friends in New York City's East Village in 1991, dealing with homelessness, addiction, sexuality, poverty and death.

Martha Berhnane as Mimi has a vivacious energy on stage and traverses the emotional journey of the drug addicted HIV positive exotic dancer with complete commitment. Nick Afoa gives an understated but highly effective performance as a gay, philosophy student with HIV particularly with the devastation that impacts him in the second act. Calista Nelmes and Thndo have an incredible chemistry on stage as lesbian couple Maureen and Joanne with some entertaining but hefty sparring that puts their relationship to the test.

Even with these energetic performance, it's difficult to get swept up by the drama of the production and this lies predominantly with the various narratives, which perhaps is starting to show its age. The story, with all the twists that are thrown at these people, is not compelling anymore, particularly with the sensationalism and melodramatic way their struggles and tribulations are presented. It forces the characters into caricature territory and there is very little emotional connection, even when death strikes.

Director Shaun Rennie often leans towards going big when going small would have yielded more powerful moments. And yes, the show is taking place in the State Theatre that holds 2000 people, but there is a lack of nuance in the way characters are written and presented. Andrew Worboys musical direction is a highlight of this production with a live band bringing the music to vibrant life and encapsulating the mood of these residents.

Dann Barber's industrial set design allows for moving set pieces to be brought on and off stage by the cast. The moveable pieces are also rotated giving swift and easy set changes without compromising on the momentum of the production. Ella Butler's costumes further depicts the circumstances these people are facing and heightens the excitement of their wins and a reminder of why these losses are happening to them.

There were plenty of fans in the audience for RENT on opening night, and it seems like a lot of them have a long and loving history with it, but those such as myself, who have never seen the production before may find themselves looking for a different rental accommodation pretty quickly.

Show Details

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St. Kilda Rd, Southbank

Season: until 7 March | Tues - Sat 7pm, Fri/Sat 7:30pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 1pm and 6pm
155 minutes (including interval)

Tickets: $59.90 - $159.90
Bookings: Arts Centre Melbourne

Image credit: Pia Johnson

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