A Musical with some muscle.
RENT, Dynamik Theatre, Stratford ArtsHouse, Saturday 9th July
"YOU’D be forgiven for thinking you were entering a rundown loft in Manhattan’s Eastern Village in the mid-90s rather than the modern day ArtsHouse at the weekend. That’s because it was the scene of the newly-formed Post-It Theatre’s production of Rent, and the first thing that struck you was the authenticity of the clever set.
Rent, the much-loved rock musical, was a good choice of debut for this brave and feisty group of singer-performers put together by director Jamie Poxon and production manager Callum Graham. Written around 1993 by Johnathon Larson (who tragically died aged 35 the day of its first performance from undiagnosed heart problems), Rent is based loosely on Puccini’s La Boheme and tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and create life in New York City’s East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.
Taking the spotlight first was Aiden Houston’s character Mark, who acts as a narrator, and provides a connection between the audience and the show throughout. He was utterly believable and made us feel as though we were there in that loft with them.
The character portrayals and their intertwined relationships that followed were all compellingly done. Gary Amos’s Roger, laid-back, gritty and tormented, paired poignantly with Jericho Taylor’s Mimi, who masterfully oozed sex appeal one minute and tremendous fragility the next.
James Matheson’s Collins, the gay philosophy professor with AIDS whose timidity and vulnerability was offset wonderfully by Stephen Johnson’s portrayal of his partner, drag queen, Angel, who sassily strutted the stage, before breaking the hearts of the entire audience when he dies.
Fran Jackson’s Maureen, a bisexual performance artist, was wonderfully brazen, and, when sharing the stage with her more prim girlfriend Joanne, played with confidence by Katy Reynard, provided real spark and wit. Lastly, there was a local landlord Benny, played with an assured charm by Tom Tristram.
Post-It’s Rent was a great heart-warming, tear-jerking affair that managed to be both wonderfully tender and ‘in your face’."
Kaylee Holt – Stratford Herald
Like many musical theatre fans, I have a love-hate relationship with Rent. Having gone through a recent phase of turning sour at the musical I went into Greenside on Infirmary street ready to hate Post it Theatre’s new production of the show. Despite my reservations this young company’s stellar and incredibly well done production of the Broadway hit melted my heart and made me fall in love with this mess of a musical all over again.
For those not in the know, Rent is a rock musical very loosely based on the Opera La Boheme, moving the action from 19th century Paris to New York in the late 80s/early 90s. Following a year in the life of a group of struggling artists and “Bohemians” through love, loss, drug addiction and the looming Aids crisis that is killing many of our main cast.
Rent’s best asset is its music, fusing rock opera ballads into complicated choral numbers and emotional solos that take you from hysterical laughter to tear filled sobs. Poor performances in a production like this will sink the entire show but here there is no fear of that as the cast rise to the occasion, delivering stirring and impressive turns as our bohemian protagonists. The main cast do a wonderful job in bringing their roles to life, demonstrating the necessary physicality and vocal work whilst backing it up with some incredibly impressive singing. Special mention should go to Stephen Johnson who steals the show as Angel, strutting and flaunting his way across the stage as if he owns the place - which given his impressive vocal performance and dancing he might as well. He is supported by slick and effective performances by the large chorus who all do wonderfully in switching smoothly between the plays smaller characters and lending their voices to soul stirring company numbers.
Technically the show is very impressive for a fringe production, managing to construct a two tiered set the likes of which you’d see on Broadway in the small space without the action on stage ever feeling too cramped or constrained. The lighting and sound design too are slick and do their job in establishing a sense of place and accentuating the mood and feel of each scene.
The production is not perfect however. It never quite rises above the scripts own problems in the fact it is incredibly self righteous and whiney without ever really getting around to addresses the issues it raises. Additionally the cast engage in frequent ad libbing that is done very naturalistically and jars with the heightened stylised nature of the musical and on occasion throws the other actors on stage pace off. Whilst this is a well done production for a fringe running time the fatigue shows on the actors and the energy can dip particularly in the second half, which brings the quality of certain songs down.
This production will not wow over anyone who can’t get over the musical's own problems, and can be shaky in parts, but in the end it is a well done production of a difficult mess of a play that will definitely entertain fans and musical theatre aficionados this festival.
Last week saw Dynamik Theatre take to the stage in the Bear Pit Theatre for their production of Little Shop of Horrors.
The show was opened by Georgie Wood, Katy Reynard and Tany Cleary playing the roles of 3 young ladies who were a consisted and welcomed presence throughout the show; their obvious energy and perfect harmonies made the opening title number thoroughly enjoyable and set the pace.
The theatre itself housed a meticulous and creatively built set that paved the way to the true authenticity of Skid Row; the centre piece being the shop itself, Mushnik Florists. The owner, Mushnik, Played plausibly by Michael Day, cares for riches, success and little else. He spends his days expelling his bad moods upon the delicate and vulnerable characters, Seymour and Audrey, undertaken by George Sothcott and Jericho Taylor respectively. All seems lost until Seymour presents his newfound creation, Audrey II, aptly named after the co-worker he is fervently in love with. The exotic and rather strange plant immediately attracts world-wide attention and gains much renown for the little shop; though the dark secret of its true 'diet' was a burden for Seymour alone to bear!
All aspects of the show continued to dazzle the audience throughout, though it must be said that at the centre of that awe was George and Jericho in their character roles; you were routing for them from the start and felt every emotion they were experiencing. Another person worthy of note is Josh Harper who played the arrogant, sadistic dentist and boyfriend of Audrey; viewers hated him for his cruel personality, but also loved him for his infinite flare and charisma! The climatic moment of the show, however, was the duet of Suddenly Seymour; again, George and Jericho exceeded here and their voices combined were both powerful and beautiful.
The entire show was created and directed with obvious passion and talent, full credit to Jamie Poxon and his whole team; especially the orchestra who quite rightly appeared at the end for their bow.
Dynamik Theatre produced a spectacle; a true testament to creativity considering the lack of space in such a small performance area. 'A Little Shop of Horrors' swiftly became 'A Little Theatre of Wonders'
KNOCKOUT JOSEPH HAS EVERYONE TALKING ABOUT A GREAT NIGHT AT THE PALACE
AT breakfast on Sunday morning there was only one topic of conversation – what a fabulous show we’d seen the night before.
A joint production between Dynamik Theatre, featuring Kingsley High School graduate Jamie Poxon as artistic director, and the wonderful Wythall Theatre Company, it ticked every box and more and left a delighted audience on high at the final curtain.
No wonder – this was a brilliant tribute to Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s feel good hit, celebrating its 50th birthday and the 60th anniversary of WTC.
Of course Joseph is packed with great tunes and lyrics, but it was the cast which brought them all to life – and how.
From the moment narrator Lauren Craner started the story the audience knew they were in safe hands, although we did fear for her as she descended the steep steps of the set in her stilettos.
The show was littered with standout performances, but let’s start with the orchestra, which, under the baton of Joe George, was absolutely top notch.
As for the players, Joseph’s brothers get some great scenes and songs, but the way they performed them was superb and all should take a bow, especially Ollie Daniels as Issachar.
Gavin Whichello brought the house down with his rock ‘n’ roll Pharoah, Ed Parrott and Steph Westwood were great as Potiphar and his wife, but the glue that held it all together was James Spence’s Joseph. What a talent, and what a voice! At least half the audience was swooning over him and no wonder, he’s a young man with a big future.
Criticisms? Only one and probably due to the sound system: Sometimes the clarity of the words were lost in the ether. That aside, this was a tremendous show and a triumph for the entire ensemble and by the smiles on their faces they were all having fun too.
No wonder there were cheers and a standing ovation! I can’t wait to see what they do next.