Les Misérables is a monolith of a musical that at 30 years young shows no signs of slowing down. Even on a Wednesday matinee three decades after opening in London the show received unadulterated concentration from a full house, along with a standing ovation. Part of the joy and the energy comes from the sheer commitment and devotion shown by the cast, who walk the familiar territory as though they're doing it for the very first time. With the highly successful film adaptation making the story familiar to even more people worldwide, it's no surprise that the show continues to capture imaginations and transcends language barriers to become an iconic, yet fully justifiable hit.
Much of the energy can be credited to the strong delivery by the current cast which mixes regulars in the roles alongside fresh faces. Peter Lockyer continues as John Valjean, bringing a handsome and brooding intensity that is matched by his dramatic and powerful tenor. Whilst he excels in the softer moments towards Act Two, he is potentially at his strongest during the dramatic moments within the Prologue, and manages to make the sparse yet vital first twenty minutes work as one cohesive section. By the time we reach “Who Am I?”, the full force of his vocal talent is unleashed, and we're confident that the show remains in highly capable hands.
There's incredible support from Jeremy Secomb as Javert and Katy Secombe as Madame Thenardier, who manages to stay faithful to the role whilst reinventing moments of the comedy, making each line land with a crisp integrity and perfect timing. The People's Dorothy Danielle Hope ups her musical theatre credentials as Eponine, showing a greater maturity of both character and voice that cements her place amongst our finest musical theatre performers.
Much of the fresh energy comes from lovers Marius and Cosette, Craig Mathers and Zoe Doano, who manage to fight their thinly sketched characters and provide much more rounded performances, displaying dramatic heart and allowing the audience to comprehend both of their situations. There's something delightfully skittish and excitable about Doano's Cosette, and she brings a fresh sensibility to “In My Life” that made me listen to the words for the first time and have a new appreciation for the character.
Within the ensemble there are stand out moments from Adam Pearce and Tamsin Dowsett in particular, proving that within each track there is potential for nuance and clarity in delivery.
Every time you revisit this production you find something new to appreciate, which is testimony to the careful direction of John Caird and Trevor Nunn. The old school RSC ethos of the production as an ensemble piece beats throughout the veins of the show, from slow motion sequences to the mime work, it's simple yet wholly effective. John Napier's designs are just as breathtaking 30 years later, as the barricades revolve and ascend against the iconic turntable that allows this sweeping epic narrative the space and pace required to create a free-flowing and concisely constructed adaptation.
From the now iconic opening chords through to the rapturous finale – the show overcomes the risk of feeling like a museum piece, and is instead presented as a contemporary piece of theatre. To many people the show succeeds due to its epic score, which is faithfully rendered by a strong orchestra and excellent sound design. With tweaked orchestrations, each number lands as if new, led by an enthusiastic conductor.
It's clearly a tightly oiled machine but that efficiency does little to stifle the creative and emotional impact that helps the show stay up to date with current West End productions. Whilst the quasi-operatic genre and 80s mega-musical are things of the past, London is all the better for having this prime example of British musical theatre at its finest.
Previous Reviews of Les Miserables