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Review: Les Miserables at Riverside Theatres

Review By Lily Stokes

Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables is a timeless epic about loss and love in the face of revolution. Based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 historical novel of the same name, this canonical work explores the power of absolution and the consequences of unforgiveness. Les Misérables recounts a journey of redemption through ex-convict Jean Val Jean who grapples with injustice, transformation and spirituality on the cusp of the June 1832 Rebellion.

As the longest-running musical in the West End of London, staging Les Misérables is no easy task. The depth of characters, sung-through score, historical aesthetics and demanding vocal parts are just a few of the challenges in staging this piece. Despite these obstacles, Packemin Productions’ opening night of Les Misérables was an incredible success. The collaborative and equally stunning work of cast and crew combined to make one of the best Pro-Am pieces of theatre in recent memory. I congratulate the wealth of talent that contributed to the production, and urge readers to buy tickets before Les Misérables leaves theatres on the 29th February.

This production sits on the foundation of director Luke Joslin’s brilliant vision. In his programme note, Joslin claims that “Les Misérables is a universal story that is today as relevant as ever”, beautifully detailing his reflections on the 2019-20 Hong Kong protests. Indeed, this universality is felt throughout the production with palpable, brooding energy building throughout the first act. Moments detailing the universal loss at the hand of revolution moved me deeply. One particularly poignant transition occurred when the barricade rotated to showcase the idle bodies of revolutionaries who’d been shot in the rebellion. The subsequent dismantling of the barricade with each piece fading into shadows was a reminder of the unnamed dead who sacrificed their lives for a political cause. This was a beautiful choice by Joslin, supported by the refined and creative design of the set.

In tandem with Sean Clarke’s lighting design and David Grigg’s sound design, the audience was transported into nineteenth century France. The stage was cloaked in industrial smog and a cold blue light, creating a feeling of constant and misty rain. Audrey Currie’s costume design also shone, with the set, lighting, sound and costumes combining to encapsulate a quintessential French character. Transitions between settings, interactions and times were smooth and unconfusing, sustaining audience captivation perfectly.

Performing with this aesthetic backdrop was an exceptionally talented ensemble. Led by musical director Peter Hayward and a world-class orchestra, the vocal performances were incredible. The casting was perfect, with a variety of voice types and timbres providing each character with a uniqueness. This was especially clear in the trio ‘A Heart Full of Love’, where Marius (Brenton Bell), Cosette (Georgia Burley) and Eponine (Emma Mylott) sang counterparts that were complementary yet individual. Burley’s beautiful bell-like tone with Bell’s light, delicate phrasing suited their character’s perfectly, with Mylott’s rich and clear quality shining through. Overall, the ensemble singing was near perfect and strong throughout. My only criticism would be in regards to the staging of ‘Turning’. This is an opportunity to give audiences a rare glimpse into the collateral damage and women’s experiences on the outskirts of the narrative. I thought this was perhaps over-staged, and would have liked to have seen a standing delivery where the lyrics and music (rather than movement) were the focal point.

Many vocal highlights include Matilda Moran’s rendition of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’, using considered phrasing and contrasts between light and rich tones in her performance. Robert McDougall’s performance of ‘Stars’ as Javert was impeccable, with a beautiful baritone quality in every note. Most notably, Daniel Belle as Jean Val Jean was an absolute triumph. Belle’s performance was captivating in every moment, performing with strong introspection and dedication. ‘Bring Him Home’ showcased an exceptional range, with floating high phrases interspersed with rich, thunder-like richness. Belle led this brilliant ensemble through the triumphs and tribulations of Val Jean, and earned the production a standing ovation during his bow.

Ultimately, this production was incredibly difficult to fault. I was glued to the stage in every moment, feeling goosebumps and heart-leaps during each musical number. Packemin Productions have done an exceptional job in realising Les Misérables. For half the price of professional theatre, you’re getting a professional production full of world-class performances. Les Misérables at Riverside Theatres is not to be missed!

Image Credit: Grant Leslie

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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