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East of England
posted: 06 Nov 2019 -
Jonathan Larson
society/company: Southend Operatic and Dramatic Society (SODS) (directory)
from: 27 Nov 2019 - 30 Nov 2019
venue: Palace Theatre, 430 London Road Westcliff-on-sea, Essex, SS0 9LA SS0 9LA

EVERYONE involved in musical theatre has a show that is a favourite, and that’s why directing SODS’ production of Rent has been a labour of love for Jonny Buxton.
Southend Operatic and Dramatic Society will be producing Jonathan Larson’s Broadway hit at the Palace Theatre in Westcliff from November 27-30 when Jonny’s work comes to fruition.
“I am a complete Rent-head, a term used to describe mega-fans of the show, so I simply couldn’t resist,” he said. “It really is a remarkable piece of theatre and to be at the helm is beyond incredible.”
Jonny has spent the past six months working with the cast and technical team to bring together Larson’s show to life, but it hasn’t caused too many headaches.
“To be honest it hasn’t been too taxing. Not when I have an extremely talented cast who share my passion for the project and a creative team who are experts in their respective fields,” he explained.
“Obviously a lot of hard work has gone into the production but it has been a very positive experience,” added Jonny, who directed SODS’ production of Hello, Dolly in 2016.
He admits there have been challenges, such as fitting all 30 members of the company on the Palace stage for big numbers such as Christmas Bells and La Vie Boheme, plus mastering Larson’s complex score.
Handling the vocal side of things has been musical director Ashton Moore and assistant MD James Green. Jonny and Ashton played the parts of Angel and Collins in a previous production of Rent, so are well versed in the show.
“It was how we met and before we knew it we were cast as onstage lovers,” Jonny said. “I’m delighted to say that fictional love made way for a true friendship that lives on today.
“It certainly does help that we have been in the show, and Ashton has been musical director of the show several times, so I feel the show is in very safe hands.”
Sarah Dunn has choreographed the production, which features John Staines (Mark), Matt Miller (Roger), Maddy Lana (Mimi), Luke Brown (Collins), Jordi Tiney (Angel), Kirsty Buxton (Joanne), Sam Coles (Maureen) and Lewis Carlile (Benny) in the principal roles.
While the Rent-heads will be packing out the auditorium, what can people who are not familiar with the show expect?
“I think they would find Rent a very refreshing piece of theatre, added Jonny.
“Whilst at times it is beautifully heart-warming and incredibly entertaining, it is also dark, edgy and not afraid to explore difficult issues such as the AIDS epidemic, drug addiction, prejudice and inequality.
“Assisted by a thrilling score and sublime acting, this is going to be a very special show. If you have even the slightest interest in theatre this one is an absolute must-see and it changed the way people looked at musicals.”
There are evening performances of Rent at the Palace Theatre at 7.30pm from Wednesday, November 27 to Saturday, November 30, with 2.30pm matinees on Thursday, November 28 and November 30.
Tickets are available from or by calling the box office on 01702 351135.


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