REVIEW Les Miserables, Mayflower
Posted by News Editor
Posted in News
REVIEW Les Miserables, Mayflower
By Beccy Conway
Images: Helen Maybanks, Matthew Murphy, Johann Persson, CML.
Ten years on from the premiere of Cameron Mackintosh’s record-breaking 25th anniversary tour of Les Misérables, the statistics in the evening’s programme say it all: seen by 7 million people across fifty-two countries, and translated into twenty-two languages. The term phenomenon is thrown around, but in the case of Les Mis there can be no more accurate a description.
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, which chronicled the impoverished living conditions of the French working class in the early 19th century, Les Misérables follows the life of Jean Valjean, a man who has spent nineteen years imprisoned and in servitude, for the meagre crime of stealing bread to feed his starving sister and nephew.
The musical opens with Valjean’s release, only for him to learn that the certificate of his convict status – which he is forced to carry for life – prevents him from gaining legitimate work, and could at any time permit police to re-incarcerate him. After stealing from a priest who shows him kindness and mercy, Valjean vows to make the most of his life and sheds his identity, so beginning a life-long hunt by Javert, a police inspector intent on bringing his foe to justice.
The extensive cast produce extremely accomplished performances, with some company members returning to Les Mis for this tour, while others, including Harry Apps in the role of Marius, making their professional debuts.
Killian Donnelly leads as Jean Valjean, and his experience is immediately evident in his nuanced performance.
At first angry at the harsh injustice of his treatment, Donnelly later demonstrates the signature empathy that is synonymous with Valjean’s character, and his performance of Bring Him Home is met with such a long round of applause you would be forgiven for thinking it was the show’s finale.
Nic Greenshields is effective in his performance as the show’s ‘bad guy’, his character personifying the complex balance of good versus evil, faith versus sinfulness that Javert struggles with, and eventually leads to his downfall.
Katie Hall takes on the down-and-out Fantine, a role made only more recognisable by Anne Hathaway in her Oscar-winning performance in Tom Hooper’s acclaimed 2012 film adaptation.
Hall’s interpretation more than lives up to the character’s infamy, her portrayal of the desperate young woman is heart-wrenching and her singing voice simply beautiful.
Other notable performances come from Tegan Bannister as lovelorn Eponine, Bronwen Hanson as Cosette and Will Richardson as the revolutionary Enjolras.
We’re brought light-relief in the form of the Thenardier’s; young Cosette’s neglectful guardians played by Sophie-Louise Dann and Martin Ball. Their recital of Master of the House is just as bawdy and hilarious as you would hope.
Lastly, the young cast members who play scrappy Gavroche, Little Cosette and Young Eponine display professionalism to equal their adult colleagues. Surely stars of the future.
Perhaps more commendable still is the striking set, which has the unenviable job of taking the audience through a timeline that spans seventeen years and multiple places across revolutionary France.
The set pieces and clever projections are inspired by Hugo’s own paintings from the time. The transitions between the towering sets is second to none, the intricacy with which the segments fold in on each otherseamless, and a particularly impressive feat for a touring production.
And, then there’s the barricade. Thin beams of light stream through the gaps in the wreckage, which is otherwise silhouetted and becomes the location of the bleak tableau where the young revolutionaries fall.
Les Misérables is a musical it’s impossible to depart from without one of Boubil and Schönberg’s many rousing songs in your head, be it I Dreamed a Dream, Red and Black, One Day More or Do You Hear the People Sing?
It’s an admittedly long show, at three hours with a short interval, and our evening is made slightly later still by a short delay to the start of the performance, but it speaks volumes that by the end – at nearly 11pm – everyone in the entire audience is on their feet.
After 35 years, you may think you know Les Mis, but I assure you this is a production not to be avoided.