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Gifted amateurs pack a professional punch

MTW Present: Rent, The Goose Nest, Warwick Arts Centre, Jan 31 to Feb 3.

This musical drama by Jonathon Larson based on La Boheme, encapsulates the tragedy but also the vivacity of the bohemian New York community ravaged by Aids at the end of the 1980s.

It also has something to say about property speculation and the difficulty of getting and keeping a roof over your head if you’re poor- something that still resonates. It is therefore an ambitious undertaking for amateurs - but Warwick University student drama societies have often shown that they can rise to such challenges, and do so again here.

At times it was easy to forget this was not a professional production. The quality of the singing was excellent, and at times outstanding, as in the case of Anthony Loftus in the role of Collins and the duet featuring Roger, played by Graham Stott, and Abha Callindi, as Aids-infected junkie dancer Mimi. But there were times when the whole ensemble dealt admirably with complex musical arrangements which reflected the influence of Puccini.

Other individual highlights were Ethan Peters’ captivating performance as the transvestite Angel, and Hayley Simpson’s portrayal of Maureen, ex-girlfriend of Mark the film-maker, whose battle-cry number Over the Moon had terrific theatrical punch.

Credit should also be given to the five-piece band. They switched easily between sparse, sensitive accompaniment and full, driving rhythms. If there were shortcomings, they were more to do with play itself and the restrictions imposed by venue. The Goose Nest is perhaps a little confined for such an expansive drama - understandably, the company would wish to include as many performers as possible, but there were times when the stage area struggled to accommodate them.

Such energy and ambition deserves a bigger space. The performers themselves are of the post-Aids generation, and it was therefore hard to sense in the production the rawness and desperation of the actual times. However, they provided an entertaining spectacle, well worth a visit.

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