THE iconic red flag still waves during the spine-tingling Act One finale and the students of the revolution still fall on the barricade in the second act, but anyone familiar with the original RSC staging of Les Miserables will quickly realise the 25th Anniversay production is a very different beast.
Based on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name, Les Miserables in an epic tale of redemption that charts the life of Jean Valjean, a fugitive on the run.
It’s an uplifting tale scored beautifully by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, indeed their songs are the true stars of the piece, anthems such as Do You Hear the People Sing?, One Day More, Castle On A Cloud and many more.
On Matt Kinely’s exquisite set designed around the paintings of Victor Hugo and using state of the art projection to bring 19th century France to life, Killian Donnelly grows nicely in the role of Jean Valjean – the opening scene now instantly recognisable to anyone who has seen the 2012 film version.
As expected, Donnelly, a competent and likeable Valjean, really comes into his own on the much anticipated numbers Who Am I? and Bring Him Home.
In the role of Valjean’s nemesis Javert, the police officer determined to bring him to justice, Nic Greenshields is magnificent. He channels visceral power and raw emotion in a mesmerising delivery of Stars and equally moving Soliloquy that they become true show-stopping moments – the latter, combined with spectacular staging is a real coup de theatre.
Safe to say this performance has assured his place amongst the great Javerts such as Philip Quast and Michael McCarthy.
Katie Hall brings a delicate vulnerability laced with steel to her Fantine. Hall’s crystalline delivery of I Dreamed A Dream is simply supreme.
Other standout performances come from Tegan Bannister who, as an anachronistic Eponine, delivers a defiant rendition of On My Own, and Will Richardson, a confident Enjolras. Shane O’Riordan as Feuilly is also with noting. Bringing laughs to the proceedings, Martin Ball’s Thenardier might be the Master of the House but it is Sophie-Louise Dann as his long suffering spouse who ramps up the comedy with a gloriously grotesque take on an already twisted character.
However, while Mme Thenardier is comic perfection, subtly does not appear to be in directors Laurence Connor and James Powell’s vocabularies where the ensemble is concerned.
Over the top and shoe-horned into some numbers, it licenses the ensemble to create a series of camp caricatures that eschew realism in favour of belly laughs.
That said, Les Miserables has always been about the score and while the new orchestrations and 14 piece orchestra, under the tight direction of Ben Atkinson, might lack some of the oomph afforded by the 22 strong orchestra that accompanied the original tour, the emotional impact remains high.
Consequently, a rousing standing ovation brought the show to a close. Affirmation that Les Miserables remains the jewel in producer Cameron Mackintosh’s crown and,arguably, the greatest musical of all time.
Run ends 16 February