Rent Songtime Theatre Arts Beck Theatre, Hayes Friday, February 6
Normally when you are sent to review an amateur production of a classic work, you can't help but make comparisons with the professional versions.
I've attended low-budget stagings of everything from Grease to Joseph And His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and, good as they were, I have never fully been able to put the slick, West End images out of my mind.
So it was good to be taking my seat for this production of Rent knowing very little about the plot and never having seen the Broadway, West End or indeed film incarnations.
For the similarly uninitiated, Rent is a rock opera (music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson) based on Puccini's opera La Bohème, and chronicles the lives of a group of young artists and musicians struggling to survive New York's Alphabet City.
Living under the shadow of Aids and drug abuse, the friends attempt to discover what truly drives and inspires them as they each find love and a better life to come.
So we are introduced to Mark, Roger, Mimi, Collins, Angel, Joanne, Maureen, Benny and a large and multi-talented supporting cast of actors, singers and dancers.
Songtime is a well-established training centre for future stage stars and, in order to give everyone a chance, there were different principal actors depending on which of the three nights you attended.
The stage was sparse but covered in colourful leaflets, while the tables and chairs used were just simple props aimed at reflecting the poor health and financial situation of the main characters.
Roger was played by Mark Read (formerly a member of boy band A1) who, like his real-life alter ego, is a musician searching for one great song. Roger has been HIV-positive since sharing heroin needles with his girlfriend April, who committed suicide before the story begins.
This character is passionate and prone to violent outbursts and Read's strong voice and grasp of expressions were perfect for both jobs. He interacted expertly with both Jack Stiles, who played his room-mate Mark, and Sarah Harvey-Smart as new love interest Mimi.
Stiles portrayed a nerdy but engaging persona and provided much of the humour as his character tries to create his masterpiece; a film documenting his own and his friends' lives. His singing was also spot on and he did an excellent job of being the glue holding together the whole group.
Harvey-Smart has a simply stunning voice and is clearly comfortable on the stage. She excelled at being provocative yet vulnerable and Mimi's scenes with Roger, including their rendition of Light My Candle, were the highlights of the show.
Angel, a gay cross-dressing man with Aids, is a key character and Lee Thomas did a great job of balancing his humorous appearance with a warmth and sensitivity that drives his friends towards better things.
His love interest is Collins and it was a polished and sincere performance by Peter Beaven that made their relationship so believable, providing the show's truly stand-out moment of heartbreak.
Lesbian lovers Joanne (Michelle Cox) and Maureen (Nicola Plummer) were required to spar verbally throughout and both were perfect, with the talent and the voices to match.
Meanwhile, Alistair Lloyd did a wonderful job of rescuing Benny from potentially being merely a pantomime villain and instead gave a strong performance as the landlord who secretly cares deeply about his defaulting tenants.
This was the most enjoyable amateur production (in fact the description should be almost professional) I have seen in a long time as the theatre stars in waiting really did put on a stunning show. A true Bohemian rhapsody!