The Hayes Theatre has grown up. Since it took up residence in the small theatre space on Greenknowe Avenue, Potts Point, a few years ago, what has emerged is a professionally run theatre, with style, a sense of purpose, an innovative management team, determined to make the most of this small venue (110 seats) by pursuing musical theatre and cabaret opportunities left out of the loop by the large producers. In their short life they have won many awards, a healthy following, and the support of an impressive board of directors. Everything from the website design, to the ambience of the simple foyer bar, says this outfit is serious about theatre. The Hayes Theatre is a shining gem in Sydney’s theatre scene.

Rent_0070Currently playing at The Hayes Theatre is Rent, produced by Highway Run Productions. Originally seen Off-Broadway in 1996, it made quite an impact, with the producers claiming that this raucous new show would attract a whole new audience. We’ve heard that before! Perhaps most of the hype was fuelled by the untimely death of the writer, Jonathon Larson, who passed away on the morning of the show’s premiere. Larson would eventually win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and multiple Tony Awards.

One can’t help but wonder what sort of show would have been subsequently rolled out around the world if Larson had lived long enough to further develop it. It would benefit from some editing. Doesn’t it feel a little unfinished at times?

The play is a modern take on La Boheme; Puccini’s masterpiece is based on a collection of vignettes portraying young bohemians living in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1840’s. Rent similarly investigates the prospects of a group of young, disenfranchised artists, trying to survive in a New York neighbourhood that is being taken over by developers. The drama of the original tale is heightened, in this case, by placing the action in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, and all the associated issues caused by the fear and frenzy that accompanied it.

RENT_comes_to_Hayes_Theatre_CoCould there be anything better than filling four plain walls with raw, theatrical story-telling? Filling the four walls with music, drama, light, shadows, movement and vivid characters, all performed by a young committed cast. There is no weak link in this ensemble. They seem to relish the challenge of this difficult piece. Shaun Rennie, making his directorial debut, has shown extraordinary clarity of vision. His choregrapher, Andy Dexterity, has infused the action with moments of true beauty. The design by Georgia Hopkins is simple and clever, and ever-changing, as is the lighting design by Ross Graham.   Both of them bringing elements that you’d expect to see in a much larger production. The sound mix was patchy, the music sometimes overpowering the singing. Andrew Worboys led an exuberant band, and the arrangements seemed fresh.

Christopher Scalzo, Matthew Pearce, Angelique Cassimatis and Linden Furnell all shone, as did Joanne Zuel and Stephen Madsen. The singing is strong and musical.

The audience are expected to leave the theatre at interval. There is a good reason, for the second act starts with the cast popping up, around the walls of the foyer, standing tall amongst the crowd, on chairs, boxes and benches. The piano in the corner of the foyer starts up the familiar hit from the show, Seasons of Love. Each cast member fixing their gaze from person to person, gently smiling at members of the audience. It could bring tears to your eyes as this sentimental tune becomes about all of us, and not just about the actors. Then the song continued as the cast ushered us into the theatre, where the band continued the song, and the cast finished it, lining up in front of us, and allowing us into their world, and the story continues. It is this approach that Shaun Rennie, and his talented team, have brought to the entire production. Rather than feeling limited by the constraints of the space and the budget, it seems like they have enjoyed the challenge and filled every ounce of the Hayes with Jonathon Larson’s vision.

Rent is simply wonderful in lots of ways. And the Hayes Theatre comes of age as it hosts yet another accomplished theatrical event. See it!

Four stars

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John Bowles
John Bowles, having started his career on Australian variety television at the age of ten, had notched up 300 hours of live national TV by the age of sixteen. As an adult he has gone on to star in many theatrical productions such as ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Cats’. He has produced, directed and written for television but admits his favourite role is as presenter, and he relishes the opportunity to talk to interesting show business people and tell their stories.