Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

rent cast


Lichfield Musical Youth Theatre

Forest Arts Centre, Walsall


Based loosely on Puccini’s La bohème, Jonathan Larson’s story of a group of impoverished artists struggling to create a life in the shadows of New York’s East Village still has a lot of important things to say, despite it now being more than 20 years old.

It’s central themes of youth disaffection, poverty and addiction remain relevant today and go a long way to explain the durability of a show that ran for 12 years on Broadway.

‘Rent’ s content provides a challenge from the outset. These are dark themes coupled with often troubled characters. It may be set in the same city as Fame, that other musical based on a bunch of talented New York kids, but all similarities end there as grim reality replaces jazz hands and happy endings.

Larson isn’t afraid to go against traditional stereotypes. Boy meets girl still happens here . . . but so does Boy meets boy and Girl meets girl. The fact that a central character is transgender (played sympathetically by Luke Bryan) speaks volumes for the openness and honesty of the writing.

Whilst the show’s characters are young, the issues surrounding them are adult. A tough ask indeed for teenage performers required to get into the mind set of areas like addiction and relationships. It’s one thing to show an imagined charicature but quite another to get it right with real conviction.

rent mid

To make things even harder, the score is anything but simple, combining driving rock passages with clever harmonies and demanding vocals. The best known number Seasons of Love aside, songs are powerful, emotive and in context rather than catchy. From the heart, rather than necessarily anthemic.

Lichfield Musical Youth Theatre continue to set the bar high. Oliver Rowe and Jessica Lamberts‘ direction retains the necessary street feel of the piece, keeping it suitably dark when needed but adding subtle choreography and nicely staged ensemble pieces along the way. The set, too, gives real context with an authentic New York, suburban feel.

Performances across the board are consistent and, at times, uplifting. Chris Buckle, while perhaps stretching the credibility of the term ‘youth‘, gives a beautifully warm and assured portrayal of Mark Cohen and adds valuable experience to the mix.

Tammy Morgan as Mimi vamps with some style and brings beautiful light and shade into her vocals. Whist some young singers can easily stick to a standard, trained musical theatre style of singing as a default, Morgan is able to fit the style to the lyric with real delicacy and interpretation. Her vocals on Without You were exquisite.

Hattie Rumsey as Maureen combines comic ability with a belting voice, good physicality and strong characterisation. It’s all about triple threat performances and Rumsey clearly fits that category.

One small first night niggle. At times, when the (excellent)band were peaking in volume, the vocals were a little lost. It only happened on occasion, but a couple of tweaks might be in order. In the scheme of things, it’s a minor quibble.

Since the company’s departure from The Garrick Theatre in Lichfield, times could have been unsettling. Good theatre, though, is not all about the venue – it’s about the management and the talent and those have always been huge features of LMYT. The show will go on . . . albeit on a different stage.

For those deliberating on whether to make the journey, I would just say don’t hesitate. The show looks and sounds just as good here as anywhere else. And besides all that, your bar bill will be considerably cheaper!

A pulsating, energy – crammed show that deserves and needs to be seen. To 27-10-18

Tom Roberts


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