Reflections on Rent Party (Common Wealth)

by Callum Lloyd

It was so great to have Rent Party performed in my village. Whenever you want to watch a show you normally have to travel into the city centre, so I think it’d be great for the community to have more going on locally. I feel there’s an appetite for it. The Rumney Conservative Club was a good venue and the fact it was a sell out proves that people will come to watch a show if you put something on. But that’s the problem––there is never anything on. I was lucky that I was part of a drama group when I was a child and that led to me being interested in the arts and theatre later on, but if there’s nothing like that now for the children of today, how are they meant to know about that world? Not everyone can afford to go into the city centre and watch the big touring shows at West End prices. There should be more affordable events happening locally, like Rent Party.

I also think there should be more things going on for the teenagers. There’s a youth club on Fridays at the local church, which I used to go to when I was younger, but I feel there should be more. You see a lot of youngsters hanging around on the streets nowadays, and I often think, would they still be there if there was something for them to do? A club for music, drama, art, gaming etc. Sports clubs they can join. It’s all well and good us giving ideas for clubs and activities, but I feel it’s important we actually ask young people what they want. What would make a difference to them? And make a positive impact for the community? 

‘Fresh and dynamic’

The Conservative Club isn’t somewhere you’d expect to watch theatre. It’s in a village called Rumney, which is where I live and grew up. The only reason I’ve visited there is for birthday parties (my mum had her 50th there), or wedding and funeral receptions. It’s mostly local residents who go there to socialise with friends and family. They also have a bowling alley which is regularly used. It’s run by local residents and feels very much part of the community and somewhere everyone knows. The typical punter seems to be an older, white, working class British gentleman. Probably like my nan and grampy’s generation. It’s not somewhere young people would choose to go. Which is why it was nice to have Rent Party there as it meant the venue attracted a new demographic. There were a lot of younger people in the audience, people who would never normally step through those doors. I would imagine a majority of people who go there are probably Conservative voters and voted to leave in the EU referendum, so the show and its messages likely wouldn’t appeal to them. 

The audience for the performances was an eclectic mix of people. There were families, groups of friends on a night out, artsy/theatre people who came by themselves and the occasional local residents who had heard through the grapevine about the show. A few said they had found out about it through Facebook. There were more younger people in attendance than I expected, which was nice, because they related to the show in a different way and responded differently. The younger people were often more willing to volunteer for the audience participation elements of the show. The artsy/theatre people were often quieter and less responsive, which I found interesting.

Rent Party was a co-created show, which means it was made in collaboration with the participants. There were four versions of the show, made with Lyrici Arts (Medway), Jumped Up Theatre (Peterborough), Common Wealth (Cardiff East) and The Old Courts (Wigan), who collaborated with the choreographer and director Darren Pritchard. I think the fact the show was co created allowed it to always remain fresh and dynamic because it had to adapt to the area and community in which the show is being performed. Each version of the show was responsive to its participants’ needs and desires.

‘A collaborative process with no hierarchy’

I spoke to several of the cast members in Cardiff East and think the participants had a great say in the overall shape and tone of the show: they told me they had heavy involvement in how it was created and all of their pieces were also autobiographical which gave them an ownership of the material. I feel that Darren, the director, acted more as a moulder, shaping the narrative from these stories which the performers presented him with. I got the impression it was a very collaborative process with no hierarchy in place. The cast all came from working class backgrounds which influenced the tone of the show and why class was such a prevalent topic. The cast brought their own lived experiences to the show, which I think is the beauty of a show like this. With 5 different performers, it would’ve been a very different show.

That was certainly the case when I watched the Peterborough version of Rent Party at Battersea Arts Centre in November 2021 as part of the Co-Creation Festival. The only thing both versions had in common was the title and Stuart and Darren’s involvement. The performers were part of the LGBTQ+ community so their version explored issues affecting them. One thing I felt was missing from the Peterborough version was an older voice. All the performers were of a similar age, whereas someone who is older would’ve brought a different perspective and outlook to the show. 

I really enjoyed both versions of Rent Party I watched – but I preferred the Cardiff version because I’m from Cardiff and had more of a connection with the performers and the show’s themes. It was completely joyful. I went into it not really knowing what to expect, but was blown away by the abundance of creativity and talent. I liked that it was a blend of various genres. It felt like there was something for everyone. There was spoken word, rap, monologues, dancing, singing and plenty of audience participation, which made the audience feel like they were part of the show. My nan, who’s in her 80’s, really enjoyed Emily’s singing because she’s a fan of the old musicals and particularly liked the song she sang from My Fair Lady. I got goosebumps every time Emily sang as she had such a beautiful voice. I loved when she sang ‘Colours of the Wind’ from the Disney film Pocahontas because I’ve always liked that song, having watched the film as a child. When she was singing it I found myself noticing the lyrics and how well written a song it is, which I’d never really noticed before. 

‘A quiet child with a creative flair’

I wish Jude had been featured in the show more because I loved her poetry/spoken word section at the end. When I watched the show both times, the audience loved her ‘pound pants’ song and joined in with the chorus. I think a lot of the older audience members in attendance related to her section, especially regarding feeling trapped in an unhappy marriage. Jude mentioned in her post show interview with Chantal (community producer for Common Wealth) that some audience members had come up to her at the bar after the show to tell her how much they could relate to it.  

I also felt it was a missed opportunity that Cat, who played the keyboard in the show, didn’t have a section for herself to talk about her experiences. It felt a bit like she was sidelined to just providing music, which was a shame. I understand she was a last minute addition to the show, but from speaking to the cast and crew, she was very much part of the company so I would’ve liked to have seen more of her and have her more involved in the show.

The person I related to the most was Darnell. He talked about being a quiet child, but having a creative flair inside him, which was music. For myself, it was acting. I was moved by his openness and honesty and his ability to use rap and music as a way of expressing himself. And I really enjoyed the lip sync battle between Darnell and Yasmin. It was fun watching them trying to outdo each other and the song they lip synced to – Kanye West’s ‘Gold Digger’ – felt appropriate for a show which largely explored issues of classism. 

One thing I personally would have liked to have seen more of is more interaction between the performers on stage. It felt like all of their stories/sections were very separate, which was fine, but it would have been nice to have a moment or several where they all came together to share their experiences as a collective, or maybe even be part of someone else’s story – portraying the other people mentioned. That was something I felt was missing from the show. Overall, though, I loved Rent Party, and it was great for the area to have something like that happening here and hopefully it won’t be the last time either.