This was the first time I have seen a Valjean whom I have seen in some previous role and that old image of ‘Chris in Saigon’ was hard to shake off but Simon Bowman’s characterisation was excellent and his performance contained many small gestures / emotion which I haven’t seen in a Valjean before. In particular his death scene and his confrontations with Javert. He is more of the lean Valjean category though which means lifting of the runaway cart stretches the imagination a little : ). His voice wasn’t quite powerful enough on the top ‘belter’ notes. After hearing many excellent reports of Peter Corry I confess I was a little disappointed as his voice didn’t seem to have the powerful element which I associate with Javert. But his acting was excellent and conveyed Javert’s character very well bringing him up to a believable suicide.
Rebecca Thornhill gave a very moving performance as Fantine, she sang beautifully and had certainly grasped the character of Fantine. Her fall into poverty and the change in her emotions were shown so clearly on her face. Even in the short time they are on stage together a connection between Fantine and Valjean has to be made for the final scene to have more meaning and Rebecca and Simon created that chemistry which ended in an extremely moving ‘Come to Me’. As Valjean entered the room he rushed past the nurse as he knew that he had little time and was anxious to see Fantine. He picked Fantine up as though she was a child he was protecting and tenderly carried back to the bed. His line ‘Oh Fantine, our time is running out’ was more from his perspective knowing he would have to go and not wanting to, whereas in the past I have always read the line as though he was referring to her dying.
Having worked together before Joanna Ampil and Niklas Andersson bought a wonderful chemistry to the roles of Eponine and Marius. These two were definitely great friends. Joanna’s Eponine was boisterous and tomboyish shown as she jumped on Marius’s’ back at the beginning of Eponine’s Errand. From one line to another the boyishness could disappear and the softer side of Eponine and her heartbreak was apparent. Marius hugs her in delight at her finding Cosette and as she goes to leave he grabs her hand and kisses it in gratitude, as a friend would, and as she was left alone she just bought the back of her hand up to her cheek. As Marius hugs her again outside the garden she shows such joy at this affection. She is the first Eponine I have ever seen who comes back to the gates after leaving the letter for Cosette and listens to the contents of the letter which makes as a nice lead into ‘On My Own' as you have a point when she accepts in her mind that he’ll never be hers. A Little Fall of Rain must have seemed like deja vu to Joanna and Niklas as she died in his arms once again but this was so moving, Marius was crying before she died and she did not kiss him with her last breath as more recent Eponines have but Joanna’s Eponine would not have done this. Niklas was a carefree Marius, boyish and immature compared to Enjolras, buddy with Eponine and innocent infatuation with Cosette. He begins to take the revolution more seriously after Enjolras’ chastises him in Red and Black but only after the loss of Eponine does the seriousness of the situation they are in finally hit home. She died cradled in his arms and he was not going to let her go, her death was an inexplicable loss to him.
Zoe Curlett was a sweet Cosette albeit a little too operatic for my taste. I felt she hadn’t yet stamped he own individuality on the character. She worked well with Niklas and created that immediate loving relationship between them. I saw Paul Manuel’s Enjolras before and he is one of my favourite performers in the role. He makes Enjolras a strong leader and it can be seen why he would be followed with such devotion. He and Sam Hillier’s Grantaire nicely created that antagonistic relationship but before the final battle as they both knelt on the floor they gasped hands in a final reconciliation.
Barry James was the first Thenardier I saw in 1989 and has now returned to the role which he naturally belongs in. His Thenardier is slightly larger than life but not OTT or too grotesque but played with the right level of humour. I see that ‘darling Colette’ has become a standard now but adds to the insincerity of the character. He is well matched with Mandy Holliday’s very much larger than life Madam Thenardier.
The ensemble perform more energy and enthusiasm than I have seen in a long time. The chorus were particularly in their element in their scenes i.e. Prologue, At The End of the Day and Look Down, with many conversations going on in the background, never distracting from the main singing, but created a realistic backdrop to the action. We all have our favourite moment in the show but mine are still A little Fall of Rain, the slow motion dying on the barricade and the ghosts as they appear and disappear into the darkness in Empty Chairs .
There were two noticeable things ‘said’, firstly by Valjean as he meets Cosette and says’ Come Cosette I am taking you home’ and during the Barricade Grantaire says ’the war is won’, I have never noticed these before.
This cast is fresh and energetic and as over the next few weeks some characters come completely into their own this London cast will certainly rank amongst one of the best. For the first time I have seen Little Cosette and Eponine took bows at the end, obviously their first performance : )
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