Feb 12 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩    Vibrant and affecting

Church Hill Theatre: Tue 10 – Sat 14 Feb 2014

Brassy, colourful and oozing vitality, Edinburgh University Footlights’ production of Rent matches its good intentions with a high level of achievement.

Jonathan Larson’s 1990s musical, based loosely on Puccini’s La Bohème, tells of the lives and loves of a group of artists, homeless people and other inhabitants of a down-at-heel, Bohemian, New York East Village neighbourhood.

The cast of Rent. Photo: Louise Spence

The cast of Rent. Photo: Louise Spence

Its themes have led to it being characterised as ‘the AIDS musical’ but, while HIV does feature heavily in the plot (and the current production acknowledges this by raising money for Waverley Care) to pigeonhole it as such does it an injustice.

Truth be told, the rather baggy plot is no more or less melodramatic than your average piece of musical theatre, while the similarities to Puccini can easily be overstressed. Billing it as a ‘rock musical’ can also put people off, as (despite warnings on the door about loud music and bad language) there is nothing in here to frighten the horses.

Backed by a sprightly on-stage band of guitar, bass, drums and keyboards, an enthusiastic cast rattle through the performance with skill and enthusiasm. Aside from the justly celebrated Seasons of Love, there are not many show-stopping numbers in the musical. Combining the melodicism of musical theatre with the energy of rock sounds good in theory, but in practice a succession of thumping riffs and anthemic, stadium rock-tinged numbers hint more at the worst of both worlds.

However, director Elske Waite ensures that there is no danger of things getting bogged down. The cast are uniformly strong in every department, and any possible worries about believability in manner or accent soon evaporate.

a pleasing blending of voices

While Joe Christie seems a little too bouncy and well-adjusted to truly convince as the narrator figure, cynical, would-be filmmaker Mark Cohen, he is a likeable presence with a strong voice.

Rachael Anderson and Nitai Levi. Photo Louise Spence

Rachael Anderson and Nitai Levi. Photo Louise Spence

Nitai Levi, as his roommate Roger, is every inch the budding 90s rock star, and is a much more believably anguished figure. His duets with Rachael Anderson (his girlfriend, exotic dancer Mimi) feature a pleasing blending of voices – helped greatly by the sound, which is notably good throughout.

Roz Ford (Mark’s ex-girlfriend, performance artist Maureen) and Caroline Elms as her on-off partner Joanne, are also both given their chance to shine, while Jonathan Ip (Mark and Roger’s former friend turned property developer Benny) displays command of tone and projection.

The only real criticism that could be levelled at the singing is the age-old problem of too much power too soon. When mikes reduce the danger of being drowned out, there is no need to go up to eleven at the start and stay there. Anderson in particular is noticeably more effective when she opts for control over volume.

an extraordinary presence

There can be no real criticisms of the other two main cast members, Benjamin Aluwihare (anarchist philosopher Collins) and Scott Meenan (his lover, drag queen Angel).

Scott Meenan, Benjamin Aluwihare, Nitai Levi and Joe Christie. Photo Louise Spence

Scott Meenan, Benjamin Aluwihare, Nitai Levi and Joe Christie. Photo Louise Spence

There are no problems with believing in their characterisations or the connection between them. Aluwihare has an extraordinary presence and an intriguing air about him that suggests he always knows something you don’t. Meenan is simply brilliant, and the couple’s romantic duet on I’ll Cover You is the evening’s highlight.

Andrew McDivitt’s sturdy set is well utilised, while the lighting is striking if at times a shade on the unsubtle side. Some of the choreography of large-scale numbers is a little underwhelming – with a large number of impressive performers outwith the principals, the chorus routines really should have more punch. However, this never threatens to diminish the immense appeal of a vibrant and committed production.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes including interval
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Tuesday 10– Saturday 14 February 2015
Evenings at 7.30 pm, Saturday matinee at 2.30 pm
Full details and tickets from:

The OCR, DVD of the final Broadway Performance, movie adaptation and complete book and lyrics are available on Amazon:


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