Rent is a very special musical to me. Its pretty-faithful-but-flat adaptation is the last film I watched with my Dad, on the weekend back in 2008 when my Grandma died. Standout songs including Without You stayed with me. Only now watching the UK 20th anniversary tour did the whole show, not just the songs, make sense and make an impact on me.

If all you know is the omnipresent Seasons of Love, you’re in for a shock. Based on the opera La bohème, Rent is an angry story of protest, resistance and survival that seems relevant in 2017 (I know ‘relevant in 2017’ is already a clichéd phrase). A slightly irritating group of artists struggle in 1990s New York as they face up to poverty, sex, drugs and HIV/Aids. Mark lives for his work as a filmmaker, while Roger is trying to write one last great rock song. There’s also Mark’s ex Maureen who’s now dating lawyer Joanne, drug addict neighbour Mimi and gentrification personified in landlord Benny.

It’s an intimate, human musical which offers profound thoughts on individuality, relationships, compassion and dignity. The fluid staging and exceptional choreography propels you through a marathon first half all set on one Christmas Eve, before the plot fast forwards for Act Two. Drag queen drummer Angel and her new boyfriend Collins stand out as the only truly likeable (and implausibly perfect) characters, with wonderful vocals, dancing and a tender love that will make you cry. This is a production of Rent that gives the late Jonathan Larson’s poignant and surprisingly timeless work the staging it and UK audiences deserve. Definitely worth a trip to see at a theatre near or not so near you.

Photo from RentOnStage.co.uk

Rent is now touring until May, including 7th-11th March at New Victoria Theatre. If you can’t make it, there’s a live DVD recording of the final Broadway show from 2008.

 

Moonlight

I’m still not sure on my verdict on Moonlight, the much publicised film painted as the only real contender to La La Land at next week’s Oscars. Certainly the low budget and tight production time – only three days to shoot with Naomie Harris, actors who’ve not yet met speaking for the first time on screen – make the film more impressive, along with the autobiographical meshing from director Barry Jenkins and playwright Tarell McCraney. But films are judged on what we see, not how they were made. Today Mark Kermode in the Observer named it his film of 2017, while Camilla Long for The Sunday Times found the hype that calls it relevant and urgent flawed ‘because Moonlight barely has 10 minutes of plot’. My amateur film buff friends are equally divided on their verdicts. Some found it brilliant, others utterly boring.

The film shows the life of Chiron in the projects (social housing) of Miami as a seven year old black boy, a teenager and a 20-something adult. His life has plenty of plot and characters to go with it, including a heroin addict mother, a drug dealer that mentors him like a father and Kevin, a friend that he has sex with. In each of the three acts (with three physically different actors, but you never doubt they’re one character) there’s powerful moments transformation and vulnerability. It’s all scored and shot beautifully, with what’s unsaid often speaking more than the dialogue. Moonlight is a snapshot of black, gay and masculine identities painfully colliding together. It wasn’t made for it’s own hype to win Oscars. The inescapable sense of worthiness that comes with it is sincere not snobbish.

Some moments gave me flashbacks to my own experiences growing up, as I’m sure it will for most of the audience. That’s not to reduce Moonlight to universality. The wide reach and critical acclaim unquestionably makes it a ground-breaking film on black and gay identities that (as my friend Sarah has already said in her review) is so personal, you cannot escape a commonality to some part of it. I wasn’t bored or compelled watching. I was intrigued, hopeful but frustrated by Chiron and what his upbringing forced him to be. It’s not the best film I’ve seen this year (that’s probably between Manchester by the Sea and A Monster Calls for now) yet I know I’ll watch it again and feel something I missed on the first watch. Ignore the hype and go see it for yourself. I didn’t, which as usual set my anticipation impossibly high.

Moonlight is out now