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Theatre: RENT, staged in Christchurch

Thu 1 Mar 2007 In: Performance

Jonathan Larson's RENT is a high-energy “adaptation” of Puccini's most popular opera, ‘La Boheme', which is in itself a retelling of Murger's popular novel “Scenes de la vie de Boheme”, a work which influenced young Parisians in its day as much as, say, Kerouac's “Road” novel and the film “Easy Rider” did the rest of the world last century. Leap of Faith Theatre Company was formed a year ago with the aim of bringing something a bit “edgy” into Christchurch's theatre scene, and they certainly have. The company are almost depressingly young (depressingly, that is, to those few of us in the audience who left our youth behind some decades ago). Youth, as someone once said, “shines like a Kohinoor” and this production was certainly full of diamonds, and not all rough-cut, either. There is an almost awe-inspiring array of talent in the company and I can see why they chose this show. It's a display piece, rather like “Oh! Calcutta” and “Hair” were in those long-ago halcyon days of big sprawling protest pieces with a “message” and a shitload of axes to grind. Plenty of opportunity to engage the audience full on with your confrontational across-the-footlights stares, your suggestively wiggling hips and shoulders and belting vocal techniques. RENT (1994) came three decades after those aforementioned musicals, and yet it speaks through their methodology to a post-AIDS 21st century just as pointedly today as it did in the wake of the virus after ten years of decimation, serving to remind us that it ain't all over yet. Comparisons with the original tale don't really tell us much. Angel, a doomed transvestite, played by Leroi Kippen (and watch out for this young guy, he is marked for stardom) and his gay lover Collins, whose overcoat is a trademark in both pieces (Rob Enari) form the nucleus of the circle of friends and lovers whose lives revolve around the character of filmmaker Mark, played by Jeremy Finnigan, whose youthful agility and mature stagecraft take one's breath away. Rodger (Rodolfo in the Puccini opera) and Mimi (no name change here) are star-crossed lovers doomed to suffer, and Maureen and Joanne (Jane Campbell and Hannah Hamilton respectively) are the lesbian counterparts to Musetta and Marcello in the opera. Benny (Benoit), interpreted here by Leon Van't Veen-Gibbon, comes out a philanthropist rather than the unscrupulous landlord. The chorus was populated with youngsters who could just as easily been chosen for the main roles, so good were the voices and the acting talent. Steph Kokay, Katie Greenwood, Annie Hannafin, Darryn Woods, Dean Van't Been-Gibbon, Ryan Carville, Jo Owsley, Jess Stringer and Nic Gason were there in full voice, body and character the entire evening. Director Pete Bucher and Musical Director Luke Disomma did wonders at shaping things, but occasionally I longed for a lull in the proceedings to contrast with the full-on and overmiked delivery. RENT is a high-maintenance work that can become tiresome if not infused with a bit of chill. Bucher designed the unit set, a series of levels of scaffolding cleverly used, and the lighting by Grant Robertson defined the action by creating pools of light in which were played out crucial scenes that needed intimacy. A fine debut of what could undoubtedly become, given the community's support and some funding, the nouvelle face of theatre in Christchurch. RENT Aurora Performing Arts Centre Burnside High School Christchurch Runs until 10 March 2007 Larry Jenkins - 1st March 2007    

Credit: Larry Jenkins

First published: Thursday, 1st March 2007 - 12:00pm

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