When Jonathan Larson wrote and composed his iconic musical RENT; an exploration of drug addiction and HIV in 1990’s New York, based on Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème, he was paying homage to the themes of class difference and social injustice at the heart of the original.
While Puccini composed a love story, suffocating social issues in lush melody and scenic beauty, Larson brought these to the fore in the harsh truthful colours of Rock. Our project is to keep the beauty of Puccini’s original score, full of sentimentality and romance, and to juxtapose this with the brutality of our divided society and the violent consequences of poverty and drug abuse. In this way, we seek to intensify the audience’s response to such neglect and inequality.
The opera centres around two relationships. The central romance is between Rodolfo (Ralph — to rhyme with safe — in our adaption) and Mimi; and the satellite love story is that of Marcello (Mark) and his sometimes girlfriend, Musetta. We cut all of the other characters from the opera. This not only intensifies the focus on these pairs, but also heightens the sense that they are somehow trapped together.
Mimi descends into homelessness, prostitution and violence
Ralph and Mark are living an idealised Bohemian life. In the words of Jarvis Cocker, they ‘wanna live like common people’ but if they called their ‘dad he could stop it all’. They are failing to pay the rent while their parents subsidise their iPhones, iPads and beer money. Meanwhile, the women they pursue, Mimi and Musetta, do not have this backstop of upper-middle-class wealth.
Mark fails to understand Musetta’s willingness to take what she can get from rich older men, while Ralph romanticises Mimi’s poverty and her drug addiction, treating her as though she were a character in one of the plays he is constantly trying to write, rather than as the very real and struggling woman she is.
As Musetta flits from relationship to relationship to maintain quality of life and keep a roof over her head, Mimi descends into homelessness, prostitution and violence to feed the addiction which helps her block out the meaningless of a life of financial impossibility, with no aim or qualifications.