A real team effort that produced a show to remember at the Playhouse

Matthew Winter as drag queen Angel in Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre's production of Rent in July 2012.
Matthew Winter as drag queen Angel in Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre's production of Rent in July 2012.

Rent – Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre, Senior Group (Wednesday, July 11, to Friday, July 13)

I was struck speechless at the Playhouse last night after the latest production by the senior group of the Youth Theatre.

Peter Brown, musical director for Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre's production of Rent in July 2012.

Peter Brown, musical director for Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre's production of Rent in July 2012.

Their performance was so assured, so genuine, so emotionally-charged that I was not the only one moved virtually to tears by the young actors.

A standing ovation said it all and conversations afterwards revealed an audience stunned by the talent on show, with one saying: “A professional company could not have done a better job.”

For my part, the brilliant second half, extraordinary vocals and competent acting left me extremely proud that north Northumberland could boast such gifted teenagers. It was seriously good.

Rent was a brave choice for a youth group to tackle. It explores challenging themes of drug abuse, poverty, homelessness and Aids – not the usual fare of a musical!

James Matthewson and Anna Tucker in Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre's production of Rent in July 2012.

James Matthewson and Anna Tucker in Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre's production of Rent in July 2012.

Nor is it the best-known show, yet enjoyed a 12-year run on Broadway.

It is loosely based on Puccini’s opera La Boheme. There is central love story between two key characters, nightclub dancer Mimi and musician Roger, who is HIV positive, but a web of sub-plots and relationships make it a complex production.

Although I am a big fan of musicals, I have not seen Rent before and approached it with some trepidation. However, it is packed with big numbers and catchy tunes and the teenage cast made the experience so enjoyable.

It was littered with magical moments, none more moving than the song Without You performed by the excellent Anna Tucker (Mimi) and James Matthewson (Roger). If those two do not progress to make names for themselves in the entertainment industry, I will be surprised.

Members of the cast of Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre's production of Rent in July 2012.

Members of the cast of Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre's production of Rent in July 2012.

Anna’s voice, in particular, was smooth and beautiful. She hit every note effortlessly and I could have listened to her all night. Remember the name!

There was barely a weak voice in the rest of the cast, with stand-out performances from Andrew Fletcher (filmmaker Mark), Michael Pearson (property developer Benny), Becca Gray (Joanne and the lawyer), Jordan Shiel (computer lecturer Collins) and the simply brilliant Amy Barrett (Mrs Cohen/Alexi/blanket lady), whose turn as a telephonist was hilarious.

The charismatic Hannah Firth was exurberant and suitably over the top as Maureen.

But perhaps the biggest applause should be reserved for Matthew Winter, who was assured in one of the musical’s most difficult parts, drag queen Angel. Apart from negotiating high heels with aplomb, he slipped into some potentially embarrassing outfits and mastered the full range of vocals without batting a mascara-laden eyelid.

Andrew Fletcher in Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre's production of Rent in July 2012.

Andrew Fletcher in Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre's production of Rent in July 2012.

And the principal players were nobly backed up by a talented array of supporting cast members.