★★★★★ | Rent Party – Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
You are invited by Stuart, the fiercest, pony-tail-wearing, weave flailing diva this side of the breadline, to his Rent Party, where you get to hear the stories of four young people and decide, in monetary value, what each of their stories deserve. The tales of being a single mother, a strong matriarch, a self-confessed geek and a statuesque, roller-skating voguing sensation are mixed with song, dance and vicious social commentary of what it is like to be young, gifted, black, gay and poor.
Part party, part entertainment and part immersive theatre, this is one production which doesn’t hold back on its scathing attack on a society in times of austerity and hits home the harsh reality faced by young people in the community. Debts, social struggles and domestic abuse all feature amongst the stories, as does a host of talent from the five performers. But what makes it more poignant is the fact that these are not actors, but people each telling their own true story.
Kamille is working in Asda, and struggles as a single mum but doesn’t let this stop her, whereas Lenai talks about her family, led by a strong and confident matriarchy, who put her through dance school; and piano playing AJ has a flair for all things science, and shares stories the love he has for his boyfriend who surprises him on a family holiday. But it is Jason sharing the tale of his escape from a controlling and abusive relationship with his boyfriend which hit the hardest and his recounting of the experience stunned the audience and garnered a genuine emotional response.
Inspired by the rent parties of Harlem in the 1920’s, where people would host a shin dig to earn their rent money by entertaining their guests, each audience member is given some rent party money to pay the artists what they think their stories and performances are worth; and there are some party favours and a shot or two or liquor thrown in for good measure.
But it is not all about the struggles. Kamille belts out Fabulous Baby from the Sister Act musical; Leani and AJ charleston and tap dance their way through a fun routine, Jason’s voguing would stand out in any club and Stuart’s bittersweet and enthusiastic party hosting binds the whole thing together. Add a dance-off, a limbo competition and some party games with the audience, and you have an original and entertaining piece of theatre, with the whole thing having an overarching tinge of being in a gay club in the 80’s.
Rent party is a fierce, unflinching and uncompromising look at life where race, poverty, sexuality, talent and ambition collide.
Rent Party is at Sheffield Theatres until the 23rd December 2017. Visit their website for details and tickets.
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.