Preview – Rent

David Knowles talks to Douglas Gibbs, Director of this week’s Assembly Room’s production Rent

Assembly Rooms Douglas Gibbs DULOG Musical

David Knowles talks to Douglas Gibbs (a frequent occurrence this year)… 


So Doug, Why did you choose Rent?

Well, the DULOG exec chose it, but I always wanted to direct it because, frankly, it's one of the most striking, moving shows ever written. It presents a lot of challenges, since it jumps around in location incredibly frequently and contains much more emotional depth than the majority of musicals, but as a director that's a huge amount of fun to get your teeth into.

Can you summarise the story?

A lot of people have asked me this, and it's nigh on impossible. Not because the story is to complex but because it's more about the setting and themes than the actual story. The show is set in late 80's New York, and focuses on a group of young bohemian artists struggling to find their place in the world, in the context of severe poverty and the AIDS crisis.


It was written just after that time period by Jonathan Larson, who had recently lost some friends to AIDS. He himself died of an aneurysm just before the opening night of the original production. The story itself tracks a complete year in the life of this group of friends, starting on Christmas eve, and following them again on New Years' Day, Valentine's Day, Halloween, and, finally, the following Christmas. There's a lot of highs and lows.

So it's quite a hard hitting musical?

Very much so. The show is quite emotionally tiring, and it's been very difficult to watch it objectively to take notes and make changes, because so much of it is engaging, and often heart-wrenching. I wouldn't want people to think it's all misery and no fun, though. The overall message, conveyed ultimately by the ending of the main storyline, is very much one of hope and redemption.

Why should Durham students come and see this show then?

Because it's a chance to see one of the most influential shows that has ever been on Broadway. It's very down to earth, very real, and very, very emotional. It's also probably the highest budget, most extravagant show that the Assembly Rooms has seen for a while, and the tech team have done an incredible job of building my crazy set design and assembling a phenomenal lighting setup. It's not a jazz hands spectacular, but it's in-your-face in a very different way to, say, a Cole Porter show. Oh, and the cast are absolutely phenomenal.

What's your personal favourite scene in the whole thing?

Without giving away too much of the story, my favourite part has to be a series of scenes in the second act tracking the single most important event in the characters' year, when one of their best friends finally succumbs to disease. It's really very moving, and although I normally appreciate comedy far more than pathos in theatre, I have to admit that it manages to get me every time.


Although I do love the start of Act 2, where the group are trying to break back into their flat after their landlord has locked them out on New Years' eve. And the first real entrance of Angel (a flamboyant drag queen), when he bursts into the apartment and executes an incredible song and dance. There's quite a lot to like.


Venue: Assembly Rooms Theatre
Performances: Wednesday 7th-Saturday 10th March: 7:30pm (+ 2:30pm Sat Mat.)
Tickets: £6/£5.5/£5