Author: Victor Hugo
Adapter/Director: Adrian Preater
Creative Director: Fiona Leaning
Costumes: Sharon Gilham
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
For those who had never seen a production at the Mill Studio before and the small space and intimate surroundings made for a rather nervous wait before ‘Hotbuckle Productions’ assault on Adrian Preater’s adaptation of the Victor Hugo classic, known to so many from the blockbuster musical and recent film.
This slightly worried anticipation was heightened by a very sparse set, made up of some drapes and a strange piece of wood with a wheel on it, some rather eerie string music and the sound of the traffic passing along the A 281. But these worries, and the sound of the traffic, were banished from ‘the off’. The intimacy, however, remained and indeed at the end of the performance as the Cast were receiving enthusiastic applause from the decent sized audience, there was almost the impression that Preater was about to step forward and say ’Well, what did you think of it?’. And had he done so he would have got a resounding thumbs up and started an animated discussion in no time at all. In the space of an hour and a half, he and his 4 colleagues had given us a masterful exposition of Hugo’s classic novel with its convoluted plot; set in Paris at the very start of the French Revolution and following the life of Jean Valjean a parôled convict, his hounding by the inflexible policeman Javert and the interwoven love story of the aristocratic Marius and the orphaned Cosette, befriended and protected by Valjean.
Preater’s adaptation started half way through the novel with Valjean already successful as M. le Maire. This raised the only criticism of the whole thing, that starting thus, there was no mention of Valjean’s reformation following his treatment by the priest on his release from prison. Often seen this as central to the plot this omission may be seen as regretful, but with a such a popular and well known plot line this may be a matter of taste and individual preference.
One aspect of the production that made it so enjoyable was the ability of the cast of 5 to change between their characters with great dexterity and certainty. Despite the number of very rapid changes of scene the audience always knew who was who, partly through some adroit costuming from Sharon Gilham, but also through the cast’s ability to play drunkard and hero or fop and idealist in quick succession, as well as all those other minor parts. Andrew Chevalier, Emily Lockwood and Peter Randall all did this well and Randall’s necktie twisting Thenardier was particularly memorable. But the stars were undoubtedly Preater himself as the world weary Valjean and Fiona Leaning who lit up the evening with her playing of the scheming Madame Thenardier and formidable Enjolras. And if she was the inspiration behind the piece of wood with the wheel on the end, well that in itself was worth going to see.
There were no credits for the music but the aforementioned score was completely appropriate and in such a high speed production it was a tribute to the actors and the director that the audience heard every word and was not aware of a single technical hitch.
The key question at the end of new adaptations of well-known pieces is would it have been possible to follow what is a very detailed plot without prior knowledge of the storyline. In in this case the answer would be an emphatic yes. An absolutely engrossing evening from Hotbuckle.
Runs until Saturday 11th May.