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Interview with Layton Williams from the cast of RENT

RENT St JamesTheatreThe 20th Anniversary production of RENT will be touring the UK until June 2017 and playing the St. James Theatre in London over Christmas 2016.

RENT stars Lucie Jones (The X Factor finalist, Elle Woods in Legally Blonde at Curve and Cosette in the West End production of Les Misérables), Layton Williams (Billy in Billy Elliot and original Young Michael Jackson in Thriller Live in the West End, Simon in UK Tour of Matthew Bourne’s Lord of the Flies, Stephen in BBC’s Bad Education and the 2015 feature film of the same name), Ross Hunter (We Will Rock You, Legally Blonde, Drew in Rock of Ages and The Book of Mormon in the West End), Billy Cullum (Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the West End and Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), Philippa Stefani (Daniela in In The Heights at King’s Cross Theatre, I Can’t Sing! and Wicked (Original cast) in the West End) Ryan O’Gorman (Les Miserables and Billy Elliot in the West End) and Javar La’trail Parker (Showboat at New London Theatre (Gillian Lynne Theatre))

RENT is directed by Bruce Guthrie with Choreography by Lee Proud, Set Design by Olivier Award-winner Anna Fleischle, Costume Design by Loren Elstein and Musical Direction by Phil Cornwell. RENT is produced by Robert Mackintosh and Idili Theatricals Limited, in association with Theatr Clwyd.

Layton Williams (Angel) recently took time out to chat about the production.

Layton Williams
Layton Williams

Q: What attracted you to be a part of this production?
Layton: I always think it sounds really corny when I hear people say ‘it’s my dream role’ but quite honestly this was one for me. When I say dream I actually mean it too because I never thought I would ever get the chance to play Angel in Rent!
I am always my worst critic and when I see roles that I think are not achievable I’m like “That’d be amazing but I doubt I could ever sing it” or whatever. So when my wonderful agent called asking how I felt about it I said, “Call you back in 5!”
I remember I was in Newcastle on tour with Hairspray – I literally ran to a rehearsal studio, belted out “I’ll Cover You”, “Today4U” & “Contact” – called him back and was like “Let’s DO this” Ha!

Q: What can you tell us about your character and how ‘he’ fits into the storyline?
Layton: Angel’s character has many elements. It’s funny you say ‘he’ because it’s very 50/50 in the script and with the fans of Rent as to what sex Angel identifies as.
I personally think Angel dresses up and is a drag queen as he’s occasionally seen out of drag and isn’t offended when called a boy! My Angel is an androgynous, non-gender specific extravaganza – How about that ha?!
As well as being all of the above, Angel is a street drummer who falls in love with Tom Collins. All singing, dancing, high kicking and flipping (in heels may I add!) Angel spreads love and happiness to everyone he meets. Other than Benny’s dog (RentHead joke there!)

Q: RENT tells the story of “a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive”. Does this strike a chord with you?
Layton: I can certainly understand and relate in many ways. I was brought up on a council estate in Bury so I’ve seen poverty. We weren’t particularly hard done by and my Mum was always amazing with us but I’ve seen some things that no kid should’ve seen growing up you know?!
I don’t talk about it much but I guess this is the kind of work where you can draw from your personal experiences to create a more truthful performance.
It wasn’t all roses and nor is RENT. I’m living in London now, as an actor, doing all I can to pay my own Rent, so yes – I get it!

Q: Do you have any favourite scenes or songs in the show?
Layton: Hands down it has to be ‘Today 4 U’ ! It’s my chance to do everything I love in one number!

Q: What is at the heart of RENT?
Layton: Jonathan Larson, the composer died unexpectedly in 1996 the night before RENT’S first preview performance Off-Broadway. He never got to see the success of his show and we’re so privileged to be performing it 20 years later. So with that in mind, I think the message at the heart of this show is to live for the now – “No Day But Today”.

Q: RENT is on tour – what are your likes and dislikes about touring?
Layton: This tour is really sweet actually as mid-run we have a Christmas season in London at The St James Theatre in Victoria so that will help break it up. I guess the dislikes are missing my friends, boyfriend and family but the likes are touring our country and meeting so many different people.

Q: Why is this a must-see show?
Layton: This is RENT like you’ve never seen it before. The cast and creatives are ridiculously talented and without being biased I believe we’ve created something really special.

Q: Any message for those following your career?
Layton: Thanks for all your continued support. If you come to see this show come and say hey at stage door. I love meeting you all and recognising familiar faces in the audience.

This exhilarating landmark musical tells the thrilling story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive in New York City’s East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian excess.

Inspired by Puccini’s classic opera La Boheme, RENT features unforgettable music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson including the much-loved songs Seasons of Love, Take Me or Leave Me and La Vie Boheme. Winner of four Tony(r) Awards, six Drama Desk Awards and the hugely prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Drama, it ran on Broadway for an astonishing 12 years.

St James Theatre
12 Palace Street, London, SW1E 5JA
Booking From 8th December 2016
Booking Until 28th January 2017


  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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