Director William Baker says in his programme notes that he remixed Rent with the intention of creating a musical relevant for the world he knows; a world in which digital media has made communication more convenient but the communicators more ‘emotionally isolated’, and in which AIDS has been around long enough that much of this world has become numb to its threat, writes Matthew Amer, who attended the first night at the Duke of York's,
And so it is that relationships in this pared-down production are hard to come by. Oliver Thornton’s Mark narrates events as seen through the lens of his ever-present video camera, documenting life rather than living it. Struggling musician Roger (Luke Evans) worries more about writing one perfect song – that will grant him a touch of immortality in a world where death constantly lurks – than committing to a relationship with junkie dancer Mimi (slinky former Sugababe Siobhan Donaghy).
For a bohemian world riddled with drugs and disease, Mark Bailey’s design is remarkably clean; all white walls, chrome stairs and strip-light doors, but this just makes it easier for David Howe’s all encompassing lighting to bathe the stage in mood-shifting colour.
In this ensemble show, Jonathan Larson’s songs are the stars. Seasons Of Love, a recurring theme throughout the show, is the tune you will undoubtedly come out humming – it is still with me this morning – but rousing anthem One Song Glory, and a number of duets in which the characters are at their most connected, are breathtaking and part of the reason Rent was originally critically and publicly acclaimed.
Denise Van Outen, returning to the London stage for the first time since 2003’s Tell Me On A Sunday, revels in a role in which her television experience of playing to live audiences feeds her character, as she works the crowd during her protest performance.
But death is never far away in this tale based on Puccini’s La Boheme, even during the gorgeous funky pop of ensemble party number La Vie Boheme. Amid the action, while the cast struggles with the slipping away of their fragile, disconnected lives, the names of those that AIDS has already claimed scroll across the stage and the minutes of an eventful year in boho New York society tick away. .