RENT is a demanding musical in terms of vocal ability and subject matter, and the Edinburgh University Footlights rise to the challenge with consistently strong vocals that encapsulate the humour and tragedy of the story. The Footlights front-focus their musical prowess by positioning their live band onstage, immersing the audience in the musical world of 90s New York. However, this creative decision leaves minimal space for the performers to move, limiting choreographic creativity and limiting the overall energy of the performance in a production that demands vivacity.
The story revolves around a group of young bohemians struggling to fulfil their dreams while coming to terms with the HIV/AIDS crisis that heartbreakingly threatens to destroy their family. The Footlights’ decision to partner with Waverley Care, Scotland’s HIV and Hepatitis C charity, demonstrates their sensitivity to the show’s subject matter, a sensitivity that permeates through their performance.
Indeed, The Footlights do not shy away from the upsetting presence that HIV and AIDS occupy in the musical. On the contrary, Gordon Stackhouse’s larger-than-life Angel and Rachael Brown’s seductively defiant Mimi steal the show, intensifying the tragedy of their characters’ stories by emphasising their vibrant characters and unwavering love of life. The unbearable sadness Angel’s death causes is heartbreakingly communicated by Fraser Mycroft, who plays Angel’s partner Collins, in his rendition of ‘I’ll Cover You – Reprise’. Mycroft’s moving performance hauntingly captures the anger and despair caused by Angel’s needless death, conveying the harrowing consequences of the HIV/AIDS crisis in 1990s America.
The Footlights’ strong vocal abilities and talent for conveying emotion through song is showcased effectively throughout the performance, most notably by the silky harmonies of Adam Makepeace and Anna Steen in ‘Tango: Maureen’, and the infamous high note in ‘Seasons of Love’, belted out by Mimi Joffrey.
Unfortunately, restricted stage space means that choreographer Connie McFarlane was severely limited in her creative choices, resulting in simplistic movements that seep energy from an otherwise impressive performance. Efforts are made to combat against this; for instance in ‘Out Tonight’ Brown and her dancers spill off the stage and into the audience. This backfires, however, because the lower level means that most of the audience can no longer see the dancers. The lack of choreographic space gives the production an “in-concert” feel, sapping energy from the emotional vocal performances.
Edinburgh University Footlights adeptly tackled what is a very challenging show, relying on their strong musical talents to effectively portray the humour and heartbreak of the story. In focussing on the musical aspect of the show, however, they sacrifice their visual impact, lessening the energy of the performance and the dynamic nature of the characters’ stories.
RENT is on at Gilded Balloon Teviot – Debating Hall
At 12:00 until 14th August
Buy tickets here
Image: Andrew Perry