By Lia Cocks
As a first time audience member of a Scotch College production, I was more than pleasantly surprised – I was very impressed with the high level of creation and performance and I constantly had to remind myself that I was watching a high school production. Celebrating their Centenary year, Scotch marks this occasion by restaging of one of the most famous, grim and difficult musicals of all time – Les Misérables.
As a recap, the story follows former prisoner Jean Valjean, who, after being released from the watchful eye of Inspector Javert, is unable to find work because of his status as an ex-convict. He eventually steals from a local church, but when apprehended, the priest claims that Valjean was given the valuables. This triggers a change in Valjean, and he constructs a new identity for himself as a pillar of society and a local businessman. Years later, he adopts a young girl named Cosette, whose mother Fantine, a former employee of his, became a prostitute and died a horrible death in the gutters after being fired. As the years progress and the French Revolution begins to foment, a grown Cosette falls for a passionate revolutionary named Marius, while Javert begins to close in again on Valjean's secret past.
Upon entering the Fisher Chapel, we are party to the incredible set and scenic design, we see the chapel turned back to front to create a dramatic barricade and stage; a multi-level design used to perfection. Not to mention the incredible lighting and projections to create scenes and backdrop. Absolute genius.
The opening Prologue really set the scene for the standard we were about to witness, with Ned Baulderstone as Jean Valjean truly cementing himself as the one to watch tonight. His incredible maturity in his performance, well beyond his 17 years, and the tone of his voice lent his casting to be perfect in that role.
My absolute highlight was his rendition of ‘Bring him home’, young Ned absolutely nailed it, with him timbre tone and hitting every note perfectly, however I would’ve preferred to see the revolutionary still like the rest of the ensemble rather than pacing the barricade, as it was somewhat distracting from the incredible performance Ned gave.
Commendations to Musical Director Antony Hubmayer and his talented musicians for bringing to life a difficult score. I would’ve liked more volume with the sound for stronger impact in some musical numbers.
I strongly believe a show is only as good as its ensemble, and this ensemble definitely held their own and had some standouts.
The beautiful harmonies of ‘At the End of the Day’ and ‘One Day More’ truly showed the passion and dedication of these students to portray an epic story with such dramatic complexities.
Gliding through ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, Georgia Raftopoulos took my breath away. She demonstrated purity, grit, strength and vulnerability all at the same time.
I chuckled through ‘Lovely Ladies’ where the boy ensemble, hilariously led by Josh Spiniello, really took on their characters with gusto!
There was a beautiful sensitivity between Fantine and Valjean during ‘Come to Me’ at Fantine’s death bed.
We then meet the delightful Tuilelaith Baird as Young Cosette who sings ‘Castle on A Cloud’ with a sweet, light but heartful quality.
This leads into the hilarious Innkeeper’s Song, ‘Master of the House’; incredible characterisations by Charlie Miller and Sebastien Skubala as Madame Thenardier and Thenardier respectively. A great comedic duo, but Miller was a definite highlight for me – this young lady is one to watch.
Marius and Enjolras then enter with their student friends, including young Gavroche. Oliver Lawes did an outstanding job in this supporting role, as did Jack Raftopoulos as Enjolrus.
Harry McGinty as star crossed lover Marius is both strong and tender and his performance really shows his talent developing beautifully.
‘A Heart Full of Love’ scene was winsome and engaging, especially when Millie Brake hit that top note.
Eliza Fabbro as the poor innkeeper’s neglected daughter Eponine, brings a vulnerability and honesty to her performance, and I just love the brightness in her voice. Her interpretation of ‘On My Own’ was stunning.
Hugh Whittle brings a capability to his role as Javert; with a beautiful voice quality, he delivered the difficult musical numbers ‘Stars’ and ‘Javert’s Suicide’ with conviction.
Great to see so many young men in performing arts and doing it so well!
The star of Act II certainly is The Barricade – and what an incredible barricade it was!
There were a few technical difficulties during the second act that saw us lose vocal sound during the key duet ‘A Little Fall of Rain’ between Marius and Eponine, but that didn’t affect the cast and they performed throughout the hiccup with professionalism.
The scene where Gavroche volunteers to collect the bullets on the other side of the barricade is visually and audibly beautiful. Again Oliver Lawes does a beautiful job with this character and the revolving barricade is a sight to be seen.
After the suicide of Javert and the death of the students at the barricade, the effectiveness of the lighting using lamps is the perfect addition to Marius’ delivery of ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’. With spectacular staging of the ‘ghosts’ on the bridge. Very clever.
Another scene for the Thenadier’s to shine in the Wedding Chorale and where the ensemble showcased their dancing skills in an excellent Venetian waltz. Well done to Choreographic Director, Nina Richards; the staging was very well done.
The final dramatic scene of the dying Valjean – having visions of Fantine and Eponine, before he walks up the stairs to join them in death, is well staged and suitably orchestrated. Again, Ned really demonstrates breathtaking talent, and I cannot wait to follow this young man’s theatre journey.
A spectacular finale reprise of ‘Can You Hear the People Sing’, really got into my bones, and led to the well deserved standing ovation.
While some work is needed to build additional strength and power in their voices, especially some of the boys, I have to remind myself they are only high school children! This comes with training, time and experience, which they have on their side.
Well done to director Linda Williams and Scotch College, I look forward to what you have in store next year!
Photo Credit: Tim Allan
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.