Writers: Alain Boublil & Jean-Marc Natel (based on the novel by Victor Hugo)
Music: Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics: Herbert Kretzmer
Directors: Laurence Connor & James Powell
Reviewer: Joan Phillips
While the original 1985 production of Les Misérables continues to break box office records in London’s West End, the New touring version continues its hugely successful run and returns to the UK for the first time in almost ten years.
Despite the enormous success of the Hollywood film of the musical and this year’s Andrew Davies’ BBCTV adaptation, this stage version defies the risk of over-familiarity, continues to feel fresh and new, and still leaves you with goosebumps and close to tears.
Matt Kinley’s set, inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo himself, is simply breathtaking. A huge pair of three-story-high concertina frames, largely evoking the decayed lathe and plaster of post-Napoleonic Paris apartment blocks, form the basis of this superb staging. At any time, these can be drawn together to create the claustrophobic atmosphere of the narrow streets of the Paris barricade. At another, they can be pushed aside to create the enormous space required for the huge crowd scenes using the whole cast of over forty. Together with Paul Constable’s lighting, moments of touching intimacy, as when Fantine lays dying in a tiny convent bed, can smoothly transition to the huge spaces needed for rousing revolutionary marches. Projected images from Fifty-Nine Productions help create the ominous sewer scenes.
Despite the theatricality, Victor Hugo’s rage against the social injustices of his time are always to the fore. Both the score and lyrics from the original creative team of Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer, Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel continue to magnify Hugo’s themes. I Dreamed A Dream, On My Own, Come To Me, Bring Him Home haunting and touchingly create hope from despair. Do You Hear The People Sing recreates the rousing defiance of the revolutionaries.
Killian Donnelly, as Jean Valjean, puts in a tremendously powerful and, when needed, intimately tender performance to produce some of the most spine-tingling moments of the evening. Equally powerful is Nic Greenshields’ conflicted Javert. Katie Hall’s Fantine produces the goosebumps, Tegan Bannister’s Eponine, the tears. Martin Ball and Sophie-Louise Dann have great fun as the Thénardiers. The first arresting sounds of the evening are produced by Ben Atkinson’s live 14 man orchestra which is a real treat when so many musical tours choose a recorded score.
It doesn’t seem to matter how many times you have seen it, or how many different versions of this epic classic you have seen, this production seems to have all the elements of success and that little extra magic to get the audience on their feet at the end.
Les Misérables is at Theatre Royal Plymouth until 6 July 2019. Check Box Office daily for returns.