Review: Splinters’ production of RENT at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio Theatre

Poverty-stricken friends living with the threat of AIDs in a rundown apartment block with drug deals and police harassment stalking the neighbourhood doesn’t make for the most cheerful of musicals.

“The Sound of Music, it’s not,” remarked a spectator at last night’s performance of RENT at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio Theatre.

Splinters 25 production of Rent at Sheffield Crucible Studio Theatre

Splinters 25 production of Rent at Sheffield Crucible Studio Theatre

RENT is a harsh rock opera whose tricky choral numbers challenges performers vocally and stretches their acting capabilities as they portray characters which are a million miles away from their own cosy lifestyles.

This ambitious show, directed by Ian Walker, with musical direction by Steve Myers, has been rolled out to celebrate the silver jubilee of Splinters and unites past and present members of the company in a polished production.

Inspired by La Boheme, it features songs as memorable as Puccini’s La Boheme. These include a show-stopping version of Out Tonight in which leading lady Abi Weigold, playing drug-addicted Mimi, vamps it up in a scorching performance that sees her weaving in and out of the scaffolding structure and belting out the song like a chart-topping diva.

Her opposite number Ross Bannister, cast as the tortured, aspiring rock star Roger, tugs at the heart-strings with a brilliant performance of One Song Glory.

Other landmark solos come from Danni Birks in the role of protest artist Maureen who gives a belting rendition of Over The Moon, whipping up support from the audience to join in the Moo chorus, and a storming rendition of I’ll Cover You by Nick Plummer-Walsh playing grief-stricken anarchist Tom whose boyfriend succumbs to AIDs.

This tear-jerking production has viewers reaching for their hankies in a deeply moving portrayal of loss which is highlighted in the song Without You.

Light relief comes in the form of the doomed cross-dresser Angel, brilliantly portrayed by Jamie Cooke who makes a sensational entrance dressed in a Santa coat with patent red platform boots. He’s a joy to watch as he dances around the stage, jumping on a table and finishing his spot with a flourish by doing the splits.

Choreographer Aggie Gryszel works her magic in a number of scenes, such as the song and dance number Tango: Maureen in which Joseph Walker playing video-making narrator Mark and Heather Taylor as lawyer Joanne give a performance worthy of contestants on Strictly Come Dancing.

The title Rent works on as many levels as the scaffold set which houses the four-piece band underneath it. The word is reflected in friends residing in a property which will never be their permanent home, living on borrowed time before they are rent apart by death or desertion.

A touching portrayal of friendship against the odds, this thought-provoking, emotionally-draining piece of theatre is running at the Crucible Studio until Saturday, January 10.

GAY BOLTON