Without You struggles with London life

Menier Chocolate Factory | By Cathy Adams

SOME PLAYS belong in London, some don’t. The Globe, for example, plonked in any other city would probably be dismissed as some backdoor village-hall-production-cum-barn-dance. American megaplay Rent, basically La Bohème with an extra injection of HIV, couldn’t exist in any other city apart from New York.

I first saw Rent some five years ago, in a rickety theatre off Times Square: it was loud, vivid, emotional and unafraid. So affected by this one performance (I even hung around outside waiting for the actor afterwards), I booked tickets to see the production in the West End, where the only thing that stuck was watching Siobhan of Sugababes fame awkwardly injecting heroin into her big toe. It didn’t work: the Big Apple was the main character in Rent and it struggled on a British stage.

And yet Rent is back, in one form, on our shores. Anthony Rapp’s Without You, an autobiographical musical about the Rent actor’s life as he struggles with the death of those close to him, started life at the Edinburgh Fringe, before transferring down to the capital. Rapp tabulates his life as one of the main leads, Mark Cohen, in the hit musical. He struggles with the death of Rent composer Jonathan Larson, who is elevated to deity-esque proportions during the production, and movingly documents the demise of his cancer-ridden mother Mary, complete with her raspy, wispy voice.

There’s little doubt he’s a star performer, belting out classics from the soundtrack – including the anthem Seasons of Love – and mixing them with his own compositions, most memorably Wild Bill, to describe the character of his mother’s tumour.

That said, Without You is so bound to Rent, and Rent so bound to bohemian New York, that London audiences are likely to feel a little sidelined.