Theatre Review: Rent // Hope Mill Theatre

Photo Credit: Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

I should tell you that I’m completely obsessed with Rent

I bought tickets to see Rent at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester on a whim. In all honesty, I just wanted to be in a theatre again. I was gutted for the cast, theatre and myself when the production was forced to close to suddenly because of the new COVID-19 restrictions. I kept my ticket, however, and was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the Gala night stream.

I went into Rent blind, and came out in love with the show.

Photo Credit: Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

As part of the Gala event, I was able to attend a Zoom Q&A with the cast and creatives. It was such a privilege to be able to hear their perspectives on their version of Rent, as well as how the pandemic affected the production outside of the expected restrictions. Director Luke Shepard pointed out that, whilst the Coronavirus pandemic is very different from the HIV/AIDS outbreak, there are some parallels that he and the team discovered whilst working in this new way.

Fifteen minutes before the show starts, a unique password (basically a digital ticket) is sent to you. You simply put in your password and begin to watch. There is a live chat feature on the platform streaming the show, so if you have any issues you can contact them. As someone who is a grandma with technology, I really appreciated that! I had no issues with buffering, which made it feel like I was in a theatre.

Photo Credit: Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

The entire cast of this production of Rent is stellar. However, Tom Francis and Maiya Quansah-Breed were particularly spectacular as Rodger and Mimi respectively. Their chemistry was off the charts, and their vocal performances were stunning; their performance of I Should Tell You was breathtaking.

A special mention has to be given to Alex Thomas Smith, as Angel. He was captivating and stole every scene he was in.

It is the choreography of this production of Rent which makes it stand out amongst others. In the Q&A, Shepard and the choreographer (Tom Jackson Greaves) explained that they wanted to explore touch – particularly the lack of touch, and this was executed incredibly successfully.  There were plenty of moments when characters stopped just before touching hands, or mimed touching hands. The choreography was poignant and acted as a bridge between the setting, in the 90s, and now.

Photo Credit: Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

In this directorial decision alone, but in others also, Shepard directed the piece masterfully, respecting the original material whilst also making Rent feel relevant and modern.

The two-and-a-half hours I spent watching Rent transported me out of lockdown and back into the theatre. The show was shot in front of a live audience, and it was wonderful to hear their applause; it really feels as though you are seeing it live.

I hope that one day I will be able to see this production in the space, but until then, tickets (and merchandise) are still available to buy from the Hope Mill Theatre website.

It’s official… I am a Rent-head!

Words by Orla McAndrew.


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