RENT continues to be one of my all time favourite musicals and having already planned to see it in the London West End when it arrives later in the year for Christmas. I was so excited when I heard that The Old Rep Theatre was opening a production of it in Birmingham and even better when I was invited to review the press night performance of it.

Having watched the film on repeat, sung my heart out to the songs and felt the raw emotion of each number I had pretty high expectations for this performance and what I was about to see.


Originally created by Jonathan Larson, this passionate East Village rock version of Puccini's opera La Boheme won the Tony Award for Best Musical as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. This score captures the heart and spirit of a generation of struggling artists, addicts, and impoverished young people living in the shadows of AIDS, battling the coming way of gentrification. It's themes are strong throughout the performance so it'll be tough to fight back your emotions at some points.

There are many different relationships throughout the performance that will individually pull at your heart strings with their love and also heartache/struggles but not one which is as strong and poignant as that of Collins played by Rhys Owen and Angel played by Tom Tilley. 

I felt like there was a real sense of first night nerves and some characters felt they had less energy than others which was disappointing with the characters they were playing. Whilst I understand the Directors wanted to create something which was inclusive of a modern theatre I felt like this was lost in the whole ensemble in their characterisation. This was from their costume choice to their acting skills, I felt like that there wasn't enough there to convince me.


Whilst there was a lot of technical problems during the performance which made for uncomfortable watch (especially as someone who has worked on a lot of shows in the past, mics can be a nightmare) I couldn't relax into the performance. A lot of the narrative within the show that strings the story together was lost through some of the technical difficulties which was disappointing. A lot of the musical numbers were also drowned by the level of the orchestra, with such powerful themes within the songs you wanted to hear every word to understand the storyline better.

Life Support is such a powerful song for me personally so I wasn't definitely disappointed when I couldn't hear half of the cast singing it.

It wasn't all that bad because actually some of the musical numbers had me nodding approvingly and even brought me to tears.

I felt like Mark's character played by Joe Ashman held the first half together, managing to get his projection and characterisation over a overwhelming loud orchestra.

Following in the undeniable big footsteps of Idina Menzel who's theatre career took flight when she undertook the role of Maureen in the Broadway production of Rent, you can't deny that it's hard to match those vocals and that portrayal of the character like she did.

However, I was thoroughly surprised by Ashleigh Aston who quickly got her feet under the table with the sass and the strength of character that Maureen definitely needs to be! I absolutely loved her rendition of Over The Moon. I also started to fancy her flirty character during Take Me Or Leave Me which definitely reminded me of all the times me and my college friend used to sing this song with each other.

In the second half as the cast gave a beautiful rendition of the infamous Seasons of Love I was hoping for a more enjoyable second half of the performance. After the death of Angel we saw Rhys Owen come into his own as he sang Collins' solo of I'll Cover You (Reprise). It was so raw and emotional, that I did sit there in floods of tears as he convinced me with the portrayal of his grief and pain of losing his love. I almost loved his performance more than the one I had seen on YouTube from the original cast. It also gave him a well earned standing ovation! Collins came in his element during the second half and gave such a gorgeous performance!

I felt like I couldn't get the strength of Joanne in this performance, played by Sophie Poulton I felt that a lot of technical difficulties with her mic made it really difficult to hear her vocals and narrative. I really hope that as the week goes on she is able to reach her full potential because during in Take Me Or Leave Me she showed really strength in her vocals and character.

Despite the technical/first night nerves issues I can only image that this cast will go on to give you a strong performance that will have the goosebumps on your arms. I felt like the second half was a more enjoyable performance than the first and the cast seemed to settle with their nerves.

There is bags of potential for this to be a really vibrant and powerful performance, with the strength in their character portrayal that will tug at your heart strings. I would definitely go and see it again to see whether this development came through for the cast.

thanks for reading,

Disclaimer: I was invited to the performance of RENT at The Old Rep Theatre in Birmingham in return for this post to be published. The photos were provided by The Old Rep Theatre to use in this post . All views are on my own.