Packed full of emotion and passion, Les Misérables continues to never let the theatre industry down.
As musical theatre’s longest-running show, it’s expected that there really is something to shout about when it comes to Les Misérables. With expectations running high, it is no doubt that myself and the rest of the audience were feeling enthusiastically satisfied upon leaving the magical and vast space that is the Mayflower Theatre.
Starting in 1815, key character Jean Valjean is introduced in his key and famous opening scene. Breaking from the shackles, he is once again a free man- no longer bound by chains, but bound by his parole. This powerful opening scene with a strong and emotional first song, sets the scene perfectly into the injustice that was the life of Valjean, serving 19 years for stealing bread to save his nephew. The set design in all of its intricacies and complications, adds to the chaos that it was aiming to display. Made of towering wooden structures, showered in dark scrap wood, perfectly encapsulated the poverty-ridden streets and poor living conditions during early 1800s France. Through the lack of physical colour throughout this production, with a consistently dark, polluted and dilapidated set, I feel I was only purposefully dragged down by the impacts of Les Misérables, with the best intentions.
Upon the introduction of another key character, Fantine, abandoned with her daughter Cosette by the father, the struggles of getting by as a woman in this seeming dystopian world are displayed. Flooded with a harrowing female ensemble, the song ‘At The End of the Day’ which packs a brutish yet catchy punch, transforms into Fantine’s dismissal from the factory in which she was working – the only way she was managing to get by to look after Cosette. Fantine, played by Katie Hall, goes on to sing the famously beautiful ‘I Dreamed a Dream’. Katie performed this perfectly moving and tender song with passion. I feel this song will always continue to pull on the heart strings. This is not the end of Fantines struggles, where in the next sequence, she is forced to sell her hair and her body, in a bid to get money to look after Cosette, in which she is joined once again by her fellow brutish, ill-encouraged ensemble, in ‘Lovely Ladies’.
In meeting Cosette, it was safe to say the audience was stunned and warmed by such a sweet voice filling the theatre, a professionally cute addition to the play, allowing the famous poster photo to come to life. Being looked after by the Thenardiers, your typical troublesome panto-style up-to-no-gooders, added a spark of comedy and light to the show. A good laugh is needed in plays such as Les Misérables, to cut through- well, the title says it all.
Just after the penultimate song, just before the end of act 1, there seemed to be some sort of technical issue, which resulted in the audience lights being turned on, and an announcement instructing us to stay in our seats. This lasted about 5 minutes, and the show then continued. I am not sure what happened here, but rest-assured it did not effect the rest of the performance, which was seamlessly continued by all parties involved, and I would give praise for how they handled this little hiccup.
As the bigger picture of the show starts to shine through in the blooming of the revolution of rich vs poor, a new team of characters are bought in, and although there is little room for getting to know the characters on a personal level within this part of the show, the physical theatrical endeavours to make these few scenes powerful and emotive definitely made up for a little lack of context when it comes to the battle itself, which I personally feel was a little speedy considering its weighting in the storyline itself. A particularly effective move as the uprising battle comes to an end is the use of specifically targeted beams of light, hitting each character in order to replicate bullets- taking the men down one by one. I feel this particular piece of staging made each falling feel more significant and ruthless, rather than a man simply falling to his knees and clutching at his chest amongst the crowd.
Les Misérables is full of relationships and is a representation of love, hate, and everything in-between. One relationship that I believe is shown amazingly is the constant fight between Valjean and his sworn-nemesis figure Javert, the now-policeman who released Valjean from his shackles 17 long years ago. The two meet and [let eachother]escape on many occasions throughout the show, with sympathies displayed on both parts in this complicated relationship. A particularly awakening scene shows the end of Javert. I felt its technical application of staging dynamics really took me by surprise and is worth noting. It incorporated moving set design and lighting in which Javert falls from a bridge, with the rest of the set moving around him, eventually slowly fading into the darkness at the back of the stage. This perfectly showcased a poignant moment.
Overall, I would thoroughly recommend a visit to the Mayflower Theatre to grab yourself the opportunity to see a play filled with enthusiasm. As mentioned, this play is definitely something to shout, or sing at the top of your lungs in the form of opera about. Not only is the story immensely encapsulating, but the music, orchestra, let alone the extremely high standard of the individual and collective voices of the cast, make this show well worth a watch.
Les Misérables is playing at the Mayflower Theatre until the 26th March. Tickets are available here.