REVIEW: Les Misérables – 25th Anniversary UK Tour, Barbican (2010)

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high,
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.
Fantine, from the song – “I Dreamed a Dream”

Madalena Alberto as Fantine (left), John Owen-Jones as Valjean (back right), Gareth Gates as Marius and Katie Hall as Cosette (front right) - Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench
Madalena Alberto as Fantine (left), John Owen-Jones as Valjean (back right), Gareth Gates as Marius and Katie Hall as Cosette (front right) - Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench

Celebrating twenty five years as the world’s most popular musical where it all started for the Royal Shakespeare Company under the directorship of Sir Trevor Nunn, is a new production of Les Miserables at The Barbican. Now I used to see Les Misérables every New Year’s Eve so as to feel less miserable on new year, a feast for me full of maudlin sentiment: so I have to qualify as a huge fan of this Boublil and Schönberg musical. The show at the Queens’ Theatre, where it moved from the Palace some years’ back, is still continuing and there are also numerous touring productions worldwide.

Joint directors Laurence Connor and James Powell have streamlined the show away from the rather clunky 1980s staging when even a landing helicopter was mandatory on the London stage. The result is a leaner, fitter Les Misérables. True it’s as long as ever — three hours— but I love the familiar tunes and grin madly when I see Enjolras (Jon Robyns) leading the barricade revolutionaries in the side stepping marching on the spot, so parodied by the show Forbidden Broadway.

The opening scene is staged with a difference as the prisoners appeared to be rowing prison hulks. I don’t remember that in the original. I thought they were breaking rocks then but memory can play tricks. In fact, there is more of a nautical theme in the scenes that take place where Fantine (Madalena Alberto) loses her locket, her hair and her virtue in, I think Montreuil sur Mer. Gone are those helpful slides announcing the place and year but we can see in the background the masts of ships in the harbour.

Magnificent projections based on the paintings of Victor Hugo convey the backdrop— sometimes impressionistic, sometimes charcoal drawings of great detail. I haven’t before been a fan of projected staging but I loved the swirling tunnels of the sewers for Jean Valjean (John Owen-Jones) to wade through as he rescues Marius (Gareth Gates), carrying him on his back. On the barricades I remember clearly seeing that some of the “bodies” were dummies in the original production. Not so in this production, all the bodies are real actors!

The crowd are more animated, with more action, less standing around to sing. The production generally seems less grandiose and more personal. The “Empty Tables” number about loss does not have any chairs or tables but is staged with night lights representing the lost souls.

The weakness, if any, is the repetition of the melodies that was a strength on first viewing the show. My companion, who is much more musical than I am, told me he found the tunes somewhat “toppy” in the higher register. I think Forbidden Broadway also had something to say about that when in their skit Valjean sings, “It’s too high”.

John Owen-Jones is vocally magnificent as Jean Valjean but I was less enraptured by the solo female voices although Cosette (Katie Hall) has a very good voice. The end of Act One is a long time coming. I would happily cut those scenes when Thenardier’s gang rob Valjean’s house in Paris and Eponine (Rosalind James) can get annoying in her mack and 1960s cap.

Minor quibbles aside, this is an enjoyable new production of Les Misérables and it’s my absolute favourite of the more recent musicals since Rogers and Hammerstein and Bernstein.

Musical Numbers

Act One


Valjean’s Soliloquy

At the End of the Day

I Dreamed a Dream

Lovely Ladies

Who Am I?

Come to Me

Castle on a Cloud

Master of the House

Thenardier Waltz

Look Down


Red and Black

Do You Hear the People Sing?

In My Life

A Heart Full of Love

One Day More

Act Two

On My Own

A Little Fall of Rain

Drink with Me to Days Gone By

Bring Him Home

Dog Eats Dog

Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

Wedding Chorale

Beggars at the Feast


Production Notes

Les Misérables
Based on the novel “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo

Book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, with English translations by Herbert Kretzmer

Directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell



John Owen-Jones

Earl Carpenter

Madalena Alberto

Lynne Wilmott

Ashley Artus

Rosalind James

Katie Hall

Jon Robyns

Gareth Gates



David Lawrence

Jonathan Alden

Laura Tebbutt

Victoria Farley

Rhiannon Sarah Potrter

Rosa O’Reilly

Leigh Rhianon Coggins

Vanessa Leagh-Hicks

Beth Davies

Julie Stark

Carl Mullaney

Sophie Downham

Lauren Dawes

Shakira Riddle Morales

Charlotte Statham

Max Griesbach

Robert Madge

Toby Prynne

Luke Kempner

Ian Caddick

David Covey

Owain Williams

Christopher Jaconsen

Rhidian Marc

Adam Linstead

Jamie Muscato

Joanna Laxton

Gemma O’Duffy

Michael Baxter

Peter Manchester

Leighton Rafferty


Musical Staging: Michael Ashcroft

Musical Supervisor: Nick Finlow

Set Designer: Matt Kinley

Lighting Designer: Paule Constable

Sound Designer: Mick Potter

Costume Designer: Andreane Neofitou

Musical Director: Peter White



Running Time: Three hours with an interval

Closed at the Barbican on 2nd October 2010, then played The O2 Arena and toured the USA



Barbican Theatre

Silk Street

London EC2Y 8DS

Tube: Barbican or Moorgate


Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Barbican on 23rd September 2010