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posted/updated: 02 Aug 2015 -
Book, Music & Lyrics By Jonathan Larson
society/company: New Horizons Theatre Company (directory)
performance date: 01 Aug 2015
venue: The Adrian Mann Theatre, NESCOT, Reigate Road, Ewell, Surrey KT17 3DS
reviewer/s: Sarah McPartlan (Sardines review)

Disclaimer before I start the review – I am a 'Rent head', the term for major fans of the show so when asked along to review the production by New Horizon’s prior to taking it up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival I jumped at the chance.

For those of you that have not seen the show before it revolves around a group of friends in New York City struggling to make a living under the shadow of AIDS/HIV. It is a ‘rock musical,’ with a big focus on friendship, relationships, love and loss.

When a show is a rock musical this demands a lot out of the cast, especially vocally and unfortunately in this production some of the rocky vocals were missing which in turn causes some of the heart of the show to be lost. All of the cast sang nicely and tunefully but, with a few exceptions, the rock vocal was not there.

I mentioned a few exceptions to the rock vocal and one of these was certainty, Hannah Simpson as Maureen who was a vocal powerhouse and her rendition of ‘Take Me or Leave Me,’ with Georgina Clifton as Joanne was one of the highlights of the show. Mimi played by Stephanie Marie-Napier was also nicely played. She oozed sex appeal, her dance ability and physicality was perfect for this role. You could totally understand how Roger could fall for her.

Mark played by Daniel Burns was very sincere with a genuine portrayal of the character, although during some of his dialogue in early numbers he had a tendency to rush his lines. His dynamic with Joanne during ‘Tango Maureen,’ was my favourite scene for him as he clearly relished in Joanne’s discomfort and you felt that you got to see another side to Mark, something that is often lost in other versions.

Roger played by Stuart Norris however appeared to have a less truthful performance and I found it difficult to engage with the turmoil that Roger was going through. It felt that sometimes Stuart just needed to let go and feels the music and then the rest would follow. In terms of improvements leading up to the Fringe Festival and a small, but easily made improvement would be to lose or change Roger’s wig as if often distracted from his character. Collins, played by Rob Young and Angel, played by Sebastian Roughley had nice chemistry and were believable as a couple in love.

With the show being taken up to Edinburgh set is restricted however they did have several boxes and rostra, which, when used, were effective. I would however have liked to have seen them used even more to create further interesting pictures and dynamics, especially when various locations existed within one number.

The ensembles involvement, at the hands of Chris Popplet as Director, was generally was well executed with each cast member having a clear defined role within that scene. The show was choreographed by Hannah Pearce and ‘La Vie Boheme’ had some great shapes and brilliant energy in the number. ‘Contact’ however is a difficult number to stage. I loved the beginning with the whole cast appearing to pulse as one but when this broken off into partner and individual moves it only unfortunately served to highlight the weaker dancers in the company and it became confusing to watch with my focus being pulled from Angel.

I do wish New Horizons much luck in Edinburgh and I would also like to thank the company for making me feel so welcome at their venue.

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