THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS ON THE NEW LES MISERABLES

Norwich – 22 February 2010

SCENERY
The backdrops were very effective and created the moods & emotions of the characters. Some were very reminisant of storms and, for example, the cloud effect took on a red colour for Valjean’s turmoil at the end of the prologue.

All the backdrops were essentially dark and abstract in nature but suited the show very well.

The ship on the first projection was very atmospheric as the prisoners rowed to freedom (so to speak). Once Valjean was released these oars were carried off over the shoulders of the prisoners as if a further shackle and burden to them.

The use of moving projection works extremely well:

During ‘One day more’ as the students marched forward the backdrop moved giving the impression that they were marching down the street.

As the action moved from the barricade to the sewers the side of the stage drops drew in and the projection dropped down through the road to the sewers. This gave the impression of a long tunnel and Thenardier came out of this through a black hole. As Valjean carried Marius through the sewers the projections changed to show every changing directions.

The costumes were a lot more colourful and contrasting with reds, blues and yellows. Valjean had a red jacket as he started his parole, Fantine had a very similar dress to before but this was picked up later on with one of Cosette’s dress which was very similar in colour and style. Gone is the Cosette dark wig and she is now blonde, which again creates the link back to Fantine. All the other characters are pretty similar to how they have always been which slight colour variation here and there.

STAGING
The whole staging was different due to the lack of a revolve but the changes made have been very innovative and were no lacking at any stage. The revolve was not missed in this staging and new thoughts / staging ideas have given a new visualisation into this story

The sections of set which eventually become the barricade are seen in several guises before act 2. The frame of the Thenardier’ss inn, forming the ‘bridal suite’, the steps to the whorehouse on the port side and the steps the students sing from to give some examples.

The front of the stage had huge flats which jonnie together to bring houses with balconies alive which gave the effect of a network of streets and alleys.

Valjeans house had a ‘juliet type’ balcony which was used as Marius came into the garden for the first time, throwing stones at Cosette’s window to get her attention. The garden gates slid on from the side and rather than climbing over the wall both Marius & Thenardier’s gang came through the open gates. Thenardier’s gang tried to hitch each other up to the balcony.

OVERALL EFFECTS AND OTHER SMALL BITS I NOTICED AND LIKED!
One difference in this production was that during the Prologue Valjean seemingly addressed the audience and asking them ‘what have I done, sweet Jesus what have I done’. Pleading with them to answer. He also did the same during ‘Who am I?’ telling the audience the dilemma he faced. This was also repeated during I Dreamed a Dream, where Fantine was specifically telling the audience her story, the Lovely Ladies at the front of the stage addressing the audience directly and during On My Own Eponine directed her eyes at seemingly specific people as she reaffirmed to them ‘I Love him’.

During the Prologue the incident where Valjean accidently stands on the coin of the small boy is included although the realisation of what he has done once dismissing the boy was not added in.

Fantine’s finally fall of pride was that her first custome was the one person she hated being near, the factory foreman.

At the end of ‘Do You hear the People sing’ as Enjolras lead the people off stage there ws a bright, white, hazy, but hopeful, light leading them on their way.

One Day More made full use of the side balconies with Marius and Cosette singing from opposite sides of the stage. The Thenardier’s appeared from a higher balcony and remained there for the song. The students and women kept walking in front of each other to give the impression of progress through the streets. It ended in the familiar image of Enjolras leading them on.

The start of ‘On my Own’ was lovely as Eponine closed her eyes and with her hands outstretched at her side she basked in her dreams highlighted by a warm glow of happiness on her face. As Eponine died the pain she is feeling was vey apparent, her legs were constantly moving and twitching as her body went into shock and at one point , when Marius couldn’t see, she has her fist in her mouth to counteract the pain.

During ‘Turning’ the ladies all brought on a candle in a jar which were representing someone who died at the barricade. These were left on stage. During ‘Empty chairs’ the ghosts of the students come on and each picked up a light. As Marius sang ‘my friends, my friends, forgive me’ he faced the ghosts and they to him. In the final moments of the song they blew their candles out, as if blowing away their life's light. Marius then blew out his candle at the end of the song.

One of the most stunning effects, and unexpected was Javerts suicide. He stood on the bridge and as he jumped the bridge split and he fell backwards, and slightly upwards, to the back of the stage into the darkness. This gave impression is that as the audience you were standing on the bridge watching him fall into the depths.

At the end as Valjean joined Fantine and Eponine, all three walked away from the audience to ‘heaven’ and a golden tinged scene. Valjean turned around and sang back to Marius and Cosette 'and remember the truth that once was spoken' before finally turning back upstage to join Eponine , Fantine and the other lost souls.

PERFORMANCES
All performances were excellent from principal to chorus. There was a great deal of energy and passion being expelled form the stage

Jean Valjean – Christopher Jacobson very gentle on the front but very strong performance. His transition through all the ages of Valjean was excellent. Very tender ‘Come to Me’. I saw John Owen Jones at the next performance – just a stunning performance, strong and emotional and the most angelic ‘Bring Him Home ‘ ever.

Javert - Earl Carpenter portrayed a very troubled man, and there was a convincing build up to suicide. His character strengthened he went on from a younger policeman to the 20 years later at the end. Stars was excellent. At the second perfomacne I saw David Lawrence, who played the role very differently but well. I was not as find of his stiff upper lip characterisations as that is not how I like Javert to be played.

Fantine – Laura Tebbutt made a sympathetic Fantine and sang a lovely rendition of I Dreamed a Dream. Her lack of experience in the theatre showed a little in the depth of her characterisation of Fantine’s torment but overall she was very good. Her ‘Come to Me’ was lovely as she conveyed Fantine’s vision of her child playing in the sunshine. I saw Madalena at the second performance and hers was one of the best acted Fantine’s I have seen but I didn’t find her singing voice strong or full enough for the role.

Eponine – Rosalind James was a feisty street child, she had some very nice character observations and her face indicated every thought and distress of Eponine. On My Own heartbreakingly superb. Her face of grief as she heard Marius and Cosette express their love was one of heartbreak, but also established her resolve to be with him whatever. During one day more she see chance to convince Marius to join the fight as he debates whether to see Cosette.

Marius – Gareth Gates’ voice has natured into a very good tenor and he played the part very well. He just needs to relax his shoulders as there is no need to be stiff. He played ‘A Little fall of Rain’ excellently and his Marius was a lot more a big brother - little sister relationship with Eponine.

Cosette – Katie Hall have Cosette more character and feistiness than I have previously seen. A lot more like a teenager at odds with her father.

Enjolras - Jon Robyns was striking and charismatic and a leader who could easily be followed and admired.

Grantaire – Adam Linstead gave a well observed performance. During ‘Drink with me’ Grantaire had an altercation with another student and Enjolras followed him to the side of the stage. Enjolras took and drank from the bottle Grantaire gave him and at this point Granatire broke down unable to cope with what was facing them and not able to mask this with drink. Enjolras held him. They still had the antagonistic relationship and once again Grantaire was only able to show fighting spirit when Enjolras died and he ran up the barricade with grief. Gavroche was killed out of the audiences’ view but Grantaire’s face expressed the grief as they all heard Gavroche die.

At the end of the battle the barricade separated to reveal Gavroche and Enjolras’s bodies laid in a cart.

Students – excellent at creating the believable revolutionary ABC Society and ‘Red and Black’ still sends a shiver down the spine with the final choral notes,

Thenardiers – Ashley Artus and Lynne Wilmot created a great pairing, bawdy, crude and ruthless . There was the usual stage full of shenanigans during Master of the House but the blind guest loosing his shoes, accidently touching Madame Thenardier in an unexpected place and having his canary stuffed into the sausages was great. Madame Thenardier’s ‘large charms’ did not work on Valjean though.

Beggars at the feast - 'Grantaire and Enjolras' certainly had fun joining in the dancing as if a magic flute was making them dance.

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