A rock opera, set in ‘90s New York. That in itself sounds like a crazy concept, but when you learn that Jonathan Larson’s RENT deals with issues ranging from AIDS/HIV and homelessness to love and friendship, it makes the whole project that much more impressive. Based on Puccini’s La Boheme, and following a year in the life of eight residents of NYC’s Alphabet City, RENT is a passionate, violent and often explosive tour de force.
Bath Operatic & Dramatic Society’s performance of this volatile classic is without a doubt remarkable.

Running at the Mission Theatre on Corn Street until the 9th of November, and making very creative use of the space, Petra Schofield’s production is raw, dirty and has plenty of heart.

Andy Siddall’s Mark is the reluctant and lonely narrator of the piece, and despite one unfortunate line panic, was very effective in the role. He lends a solidity and quiet possession to an ensemble of raucous, whirling characters, and Mark Sellick’s brooding and dangerous Roger plays nicely off him as friendship between the two characters is fortified and strained by turns.

Benny, played by Rob Trigger, hit a nice balance between cynicism and desperation as he struggles to fit into the corporate world he has married into at the expense of his old friends.

Mimi (Jenny Lavender) is also nicely judged, mixing sexual confidence with a battered and youthful vulnerability – although occasionally she is maybe a touch too subtle for the rough and ready nature of this show.

For me, Tristan Carter’s Tom Collins was one of the characters who stood out the most – with a cheeky insouciance masking deep personal tragedy, he drew the eye in most scenes he was in. The early stages of his relationship with Angel – played with an infectious energy by TJ Choongh – was touched with a hesitancy and nervousness that won the audience over immediately – and made the conclusion of Angel’s storyline all the more heart-wrenching.

Maureen Johnson (Sabrina Messer) was also a stand out character, playing the audience expertly during her opening piece protesting the development of the abandoned lot – rarely have I heard an audience ‘moo’ with such enthusiasm. At times callous, at others touchingly helpless, her relationship with Joanne (Sarah-Jane Adlington), who is quietly rebelling against her conservative background, was well-constructed and believable – it was easy to see why the two characters could neither live with, nor without each other.

The production was not a perfect one – the cast’s energy did drop slightly towards the middle of each act, and occasionally characters not at the forefront of a scene’s action weren’t as engaged as they could be. However, this show is incredibly difficult to do – the actors, as you would expect from an opera, communicate almost solely through song, and the majority of the numbers are extremely difficult on a technical level which might explain the occasional drop in focus. Overall though, the production is a fantastic one – with tunes that you’ll be singing in the shower for months to come, some truly incredible voices (the calibre of the singing on this stage is honestly jaw-dropping), an extremely strong chorus, and an infectiously passionate cast, it is certainly one you will regret missing. Bath Operatic & Dramatic Society took a gamble when they chose RENT – and in my humble opinion, it paid off.

Louise Heavey