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”
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.
At the End of the Day
I Dreamed a Dream
Who Am I?
Come to Me
Castle on a Cloud
Master of the House
Red and Black
Do You Hear the People Sing?
In My Life
A Heart Full of Love
One Day More
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
Beggars at the Feast
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
Rhiannon Sarah Potrter
Leigh Rhianon Coggins
Shakira Riddle Morales
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
London EC2Y 8DS
Tube: Barbican or Moorgate
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Barbican on 23rd September 2010