When it comes to musicals, some are just more well known than others and if you were to ask someone who perhaps isn’t as knowledgable on the subject as you and me, they would still probably be able to name a few and one of those would most probably be Les Miserables. This famous show has celebrated many a birthday, and is only a few years away from the landmark age of 40. It’s been seen by millions all over the world and it is still has loved as it was when it first opened.
The show, which is still thrilling visitors to the bright lights of the West End, is also currently out on a big UK Tour, bringing one of the world’s most famous musicals to the masses. Now playing to audiences at the Theatre Royal Plymouth, Les Miserables continues to thrill with it’s revamped staging and world class performances.
At it’s heart, Les Miserables is a tale of love, belief, revolution and the never ending battle between right and wrong. We follow the stories of a plethora of interlinked characters throughout, including Jean Valjean (played at this performance by Will Barrett) who creates a whole new life for himself after prison, constantly a few steps ahead of Inspector Javert (Nic Greenshields). As he fights to remain free and do what is best for those he loves, a student rebellion brews on the streets of Paris, bringing out those who wish to fight for their rights and those who wish to benefit from any downfall of the wealthy.
Will Barrett stepped up to play the role of Jean Valjean at the show I attended and he did it with pure class. A commanding performance throughout as we see his character battle the odds to better himself and become a better person. His relationship with Paige Blankson as Cosette was charming and believable and the battle between him as Nic Greenshields as Javert was powerful. Greenshields’ renditions of ‘Stars’ is particularly impressive as he is able to display both the characters demand for respect for himself and the law and his internal battle between what he thought was right and what might actually be correct.
Will Callan, straight out of college, makes an impressive professional debut as Marius, a young student torn between love and war. Drawn into the rebellion but distracted by a chance meeting with Cosette, Marius is conflicted as displayed in Callan’s performance, driven by both a want to fight and follow his love. Nathania Ong’s Eponine is lovelorn and lonely, forever in Marius’ shadow and risking it all for someone who doesn’t return the feelings whilst Paige Blankson’s Cosette is innocent to the dangers around her with her entire focus on Marius.
Samual Wynn-Davis dons the famous red coat of Enjolras in this touring production in a performance this is brimming with passion and determination. Tessa Kadler impressed as Fantine, with her ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ soaring over the packed auditorium. Ian Hughes and Helen Walsh earned many a laugh as the villainous Thenardier’s, out to trick whoever they can, steal whatever they can and benefit in any way possible from the fallout of the barricades. ‘Beggars at the Feast’ was a hit with the audience in particular, with ‘Master of the house’ also earning rapturous applause. Steven Hall’s Grantiare packed an emotional punch, unclear in his reasoning to fight other than to support the other students, ruled by the bottle of wine in his hands and drawn in by everything said by Enjolras. His relationship with young star Vishal Soni’s Gavroche with especially touching which makes certain scenes all the more heartbreaking.
In this revamped production, the young girls playing the roles of little Eponine and Little Cosette are given expanded parts to play, with Poppy Livingstone’s young Eponine also appearing in the Paris streets scenes and Nyanja Engel’s little Cosette appearing in ‘Turning’ in act 2 as well as performing the classic ‘Castle on a Cloud’ and her scenes with Valjean and the Thenardiers.
The staging of this production pushes the story to whole new levels. Whilst the once famous revolve is now a thing of the past, the painted backdrops and the large set pieces bring the tale to life. The barricade itself is as impressive as ever and the addition of buildings complete with balcony’s allow for more action across the stage. The way in which Javert’s final moments are staged works very well and overall, the staging feels bigger and better than ever. Add in the sizeable ensemble who make it look easy to play multiple parts and this show is off the scale both in size and performance.
Les Miserables may have been around over 35 years but it remains as spectacular as ever and I can only assume that it will be around for some time to come yet. The story is timeless, the songs are beautiful and the performances never fail to impress.