Interview Director Bruce Guthrie: “Shows like RENT and Angels in America allow us to look at this time period subjectively and have become like Brechtian theatre as they hold a mirror up to our own time while depicting events from the past.”

Bruce Guthrie

Bruce Guthrie credit Dan Wooller

Bruce Guthrie is the director of the 20th Anniversary production of Jonathan Larson’s award-winning musical RENT. Guthrie is a professional theatre and film director from Scotland now based in London, who has worked with multi award-winning artists in the UK and internationally since 2005.

RENT is inspired by Puccini’s opera La Bohème, won four Tony Awards, six Drama Desk Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1996. The show ran on Broadway for 12 years, from 1996 to 2008. The show premiered in London’s West End in 1998 at the Shaftesbury Theatre, where it ran for 18 months. It was adapted into a film in 2005. This production is currently near the end of a huge U.K. Tour.

Like Tony Kushner’s ‘Angels in America,  Jonathan Larson’s momentous musical about the AIDS/HIV crisis, proves Broadway’s enduring approach at tackling important issues head-on.

I thought it would be a good idea to have a chat with Bruce on the telephone.

I was right it was quite good.

Here is what we discussed…

Hi Bruce. How is the U.K. tour of RENT going?
It has been amazing. We’ve had a standing ovation at pretty much every performance. Audiences have been so responsive the production wherever we have gone and it’s a privilege to have directed a show that is so important to so many people. An entire generation have never seen it live are coming to it with a fresh perspective and loving it while those more familiar with it are coming to see it and falling in love with it all over again.”

I had never seen RENT before, it was a show that I knew of but had never seen it live, I’d never watched the movie either. I think that was a good thing as it allowed me to be able to treat it like a brand-new musical.

Why do you think Rent has never been on a proper U.K tour?
There is definitely an appetite for this show When we’ve been somewhere for a few days, the word of mouth gets out and people come in their droves to see the show by the end of the week. The musical has a bit for a reputation of being the AIDS musical (see TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE) but It’s about so much more than that. The show is about what it means to be present and live in the moment: to embrace life and the choices of others rather than judge them. It’s a story about love and family. It’s full of fun, energy and incredible characters. The music is superb and it’s a celebration of what it is to be alive. Perhaps we were not ready for the show 20 years ago and now we can look back on that period of history we can be more objective about it. Perhaps we are exposed to much more American culture now thanks to T.V and film as well as transatlantic travel becoming more easy. It might be a combination of all these things. What I do know is the U.K audiences have been incredible in their response and attendance.”

Angels in America

Angels in America -Cast Portrait

You must be encouraged to see Angels in America at the National getting such an electric response. Kushner and Larson’s legacies live far beyond the original production’s success, don’t they?
RENT has become a historical piece and we are able to look at how we did or didn’t deal with situations at that time. Our characters are post-Vietnam and they are finding their way as their own individuals. It’s a real snapshot and celebration of American creativity amidst the devastation of this incurable plague that creates a climate of fear for our characters to rise up against. Shows like RENT and Angels in America allow us to look at this time period subjectively and have become like Brechtian theatre as they hold a mirror up to our own time while depicting events from the past. The first line of the song RENT is “How do you document real life when real life is getting like fiction every day.” That could have been written about Trump’s America.


Well, quite. Right, easy question what are the top 3 Musicals of all time?
Well, Les Miserable is a very special show. I love how it deals with themes that are bigger than any individual character: it has beautiful music, incredible spectacle, grandness and yet a realness to it. I saw Hamilton on Broadway last year while I was researching RENT. It is such a game-changer: it truly is THE RENT of today in terms of the reaction to it and that is not coincidence – Lin Manuel Miranda is a massive fan of RENT and it was produced by Jeffery Seller, who produced the original version of RENT.  Hamilton takes a combination of things and puts them together in a way that nobody has ever seen or heard before in musical theatre. Finally, I’d go for Sweeny Todd by Stephen Sondheim. It’s a wonderfully funny and dark musical. Incredible music, great characters and a great story. What more do you need?

Terrific choices! This production has had amazing feedback from audiences and some solid reviews. What are your hopes for the future?
We hope there will be a future life for RENT. Our cast are truly spectacular and the production has been so well received by audiences and critics that we feel there is a life in the show, but nothing is certain until it’s certain. Next, I’m directing a play called Man to Man by Manfred Karge with Frantic Assembly’s Artistic Director Scott Graham, which will tour the UK and play in London at the beautiful Wilton’s Music Hall. The production played the Edinburgh Festival in 2015 and was a huge hit. I’m pleased we are getting a chance to revisit it. I’ve got quite a few things planned for 2017 already. I like to keep my work varied and always want to learn something new with every production.

As someone who is Scottish how important are the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Edinburgh International Festival for artist’s development?
Edinburgh in August is one of the most exciting places to be anywhere in the world – the energy and vibrancy of the festival is really terrific and they are really good opportunities to flex muscles and learn which is excellent. The energy and buzz of creativity is wonderful. With more than 6,500 productions to choose from, there’s something for everyone. My advice to young directors and performers is you have to decide what you want to gain from it. For me, whenever I’ve done a festival each time it’s been about putting on a great show. It’s lovely to have a few nights out on the town but in the end, it’s all about the quality of the work.

You are coming to Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts next week, aren’t you?
We are looking forward to coming to the Lighthouse in Poole.  We’ve tried to take RENT to places you wouldn’t necessarily expect. It’s a beautiful theatre and the cast are looking forward to playing there.

Have you had any special audience responses that have stayed with you?
As I said earlier there has been so much amazing feedback it has been very special. Our cast are incredibly talented and give it their all in every performance. The cast have met people from all walks of life who thank them for doing the show and telling stories that are close to their own. There was one kid in Liverpool that came and said because of RENT he’d been inspired to talk to his parents and come out which is an incredibly brave thing to do. Jonathan Larson did that most rare of things, he wrote a piece of theatre that inspires people in a truly life changing way.

Rent is at Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts 1-6 May  Box Office: 01202 280000

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes is at the National Theatre, until 19 August.