LES MISERABLES - 26 MARCH 2004, LONDON

Six months of performances combined with the adrenalin of the final performances at the Palace Theatre has brought an energy and passion to Les Miserables that I have not seen in a while. The developments in the characterisations, ensemble work and interaction between the cast have come together, it is a finely tuned yet still contains those elements of rawness and reality.

Jeff Leyton remains a solid Valjean and there were nice touches in his performances - when the bishop help his face and told him ‘I have bought your soul for God’ the tears of shame filled his eyes and through ‘Who I am ?’ you really felt he was trying to justify his actions to the audience as he realised the chance for everlasting freedom was at hand but then accepting he must give up his freedom rather than condemn an innocent man.

Michael McCarthy has a commanding presence as Javert, his personal strength and steadfastness in Stars though to his demise in a powerful Solioquy as he loses the battle with his inner demons

Joanna Ampil gave a passionate performance as Fantine and has given Fantine the harder but brittle edge. Her ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ was both emotional and angry as she displayed her despair at what life had thrown her way. ‘Come to me’ was beautiful and as she continued to reach out in front of her for Cosette she turned Valjean’s face so he could see aswell. Her face glowed as she watched Valjean and Cosette in his final moments before she took him away.

Sophis Ravegelas for me perfectly portrays Eponine, her small frame covering up the huge emotional and hard life she has led. She has a face which is extremely expressionate and body language which continually reveals her inner thoughts whether joy or sadness. As Valjean reads the letter from Cosette she comes right back up to the gates to hear what Marius has written and realises there is no hope as he has declared his love for Cosette openly, this finalises her decision to be with him. Her ‘On my own’ was emotional and passionate and her counterpoint during ‘A heart full of love’ added the sorrowful undertone to the lovers happiness. She and Jon Lee have created an excellent and believable relationship as Marius and Eponine and watching a ‘Little Fall of Rain’ it was as though in those final moments he was her lover cradling her as she died, he touched her face and held her face so close to his giving her that last realisation that it could have been her but for a small turn of fate.

Jon Lee has proved himself to be an excellent Marius. His performance contains so much passion and realism and his relationships with Sophia and Oliver Thornton (Enjolras) has developed beyond many I have seen before. After Eponine’s death he cried heartbroken and bereft at her loss, switched off from the world for a few moments. On the barricade the love and respect between Marius and Enjolras was brought to the fore even more as they argued intensely over who is going to go over the barricade to fetch more bullets, Marius lashing back at Enjolras’s protection of him with ‘the same is true for any man here’. Both of them physically leaped from the barricade to the floor as the atmosphere becomes more desperate and frantic. This is the first time I have seen Marius become part of the relationship between Enjolras and Grantaire (an excellent Chritopher Keys) albeit unknowningly to him. In Red and Black Enjolras had criticised Grantaire for his drinking and mockery and to show defiance Grantaire only showed his solidarity with the others when Marius stood up. After ‘A Little fall of Rain’, it was Grantaire who usurped Enjolras and cut in before him to comfort the sobbing Marius. After the first battle Grantaire sat with his head in his hands obviously terrified and coping with the realisation that they were going to die but before the final battle he rushed to Enjolras’s side and grasped his hand making his peace with him. Oliver gave an impassioned performance as Enjolras, convincing as the leader of the students. Throughtout the melee at the barricade, as he saw Marius lying injured, and he believed dead, he held him crying ‘no’ before making the final ascent up the barricade to his death.

Joe Cooper gave an excellent performance as Gavroche both capturing the cheekiness but still the young boy in him. When Javert first spoke to Enjolras as they prepared to build the barricade Gavroche stood between them suspiciously watching Javert and as he left he made the decision to follow him. He revelled in the unveiling of Javert at the barricade, leaning on Javert’s shoulder like a mate knowing he couldn’t be touched. In contrast to this after Eponine died before him he ran to the barricade crying, a frightened child. He wanted to be a man and carried one of the guns which was nearly twice as long as he was high and in his final moments as the first gunshot of the soldier missed him he gave a defiant signal to the enemy only then to be shot.

Stephen Tate and Katy Secombe were excellent Thenardiers and Stephen has added so many touches to his character which compliment it and never move to caricature. The interaction between them both during the Thenardier Waltz was the right level of insincerity, deception and greed.

There seemed to be some elements to the characters and actions which added to the performance:

Master of the House – the second traveller (Nic Greenshields) took the hump with the first traveller when the pretty girl in the inn didn’t pay him attention so he moved to another table. It is a story in itself seeing what conversation the travellers will have at each performance.

Master of the House - the husband and wife suddenly finding their wine wasn’t actually that bad and more tasteful after Thenardier had replenished the bottle from a personal source !

The Thenardiers reaction when they heard Fantine was dead was very much a ‘well what are we going to do with her and damn that is the end of that money source’ but then changing attitude as soon as Valjean says he is there in her place

The fool at Valjean’s arrest, not understanding what was going on and playing with his hat as the other villagers all looked through the door

At the End of the day – the lights made the beggars faceless and only as they were nearly on top of you did the beggar become an actual person

Alexis James - his pimp’s reaction as Fantine turned Bambatois down shouting ‘what is she doing’ and giving an idea of the punishment in store for her. His Montparnasse is an evil rogue, all dressed and acting like a dandy but underneath he would kill without a thought – these elements shown in his treatment of Eponine where in the Rue Plumet he has a knife to her throat in an instant.

During the Robbery of Valjean as Javert put his hand on Thenardier’s shoulder he drew a knife from his pocket ready to attack only to be dissuaded by Madam Thenardier.

Red and Black – amazingly moving and powerful singing combined with the slightly chaotic feeling and anxiety created a great atmospheric scene

Red and Black - two students looked at each other as Marius described ‘she was like a ghost to me’, mouthing knowingly to each other ‘she’. Marius’s response was a passionate and angry ‘red I feel my soul on fire, black the colour of despair’ wanting them to believe him.

One Day More – absolutely spine tingling !

Empty Chairs – in the mist at the back of the stage as the ghosts left Enjolras just lingered a few moments longer than the other students as though he is having one final look at his friend

Adeen Ashton – whenever she was on, and whichever character she brought a humanity and realism to them. The respectful ‘monsieur’ to Valjean at the barricade, to the bishops sisters calming the servant, to ‘Drink with me’ where she is seen saying ‘that’s nice Feuilly’ acknowledging that he is trying to bring them together as they are about to fall apart.

The Barricade - as the army issued it’s last warning a student throws down his arms in despair at the front of the stage only to be rallied back to action by fellow students

The Barricade - after Valjean had saved Enjolras, he and Grantaire stood talking to Gavroche as he stood there proudly with this gun.

Nic Greenshields ‘queer’ at the wedding was priceless confirmation of Thenardier’s comments.

Ensemble - throughout the performance the interaction, conversations and reactions to what was going on around them were excellent and made the scenes so much more real e.g. the two men eyeing up Fantine at the factory when they hear she has a child, now she has become potential prey for them

The performance left me on an emotional high. The frantic energy, relentless passion and chaotic feel to the barricade created a tense and fraught atmosphere and action filled the stage to the hilt. This energy and passion continued throughout the whole piece and long may it continue at the Queens.

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