A tour-de-force of emotions: Review of Les Misérables at Theatre Royal, Newcastle
There were no empty seats at Theatre Royal Newcastle, but you could hear plenty of people singing on the way home as Les Misérables brought the high drama of Victor Hugo’s epic novel to the stage for an eight-week run.
Though I’ve been enthralled by the London production of this masterpiece of a musical, this was my first time seeing it on tour and it’s lost none of its West End sparkle.
Only the revolving stage is missing from the touring version, but then it’s not much of a miss when you have awe-inspiring sets which take you from the depths of the Seine to the heights of the Barricades.
Brace yourself for a tour-de-force of emotions as this Cameron Mackintosh adaptation thrusts you into the anguish and turmoil of early 19th century France as it fights for its emancipation.
Hours of the musical (almost three, in fact) become decades on stage as we follow the trials and tribulations of convict Jean Valjean, who breaks parole and is relentlessly pursued by arch enemy Javert, amidst the back drop of an equally turbulent Paris in the post-Revolution uprisings.
Killian Donnelly as Jean Valjean, a role he played in the West End, and Nic Greenshields as his foe Javert both provide a booming, commanding presence on stage as they do real justice to Schönberg and Boublil’s musical in huge numbers such as Who Am I and Stars.
As the manhunt gathers pace, Valjean’s journey introduces us to a rich tapestry of characters, none more heart-breaking than the forlorn Fantine, played with pathos by Katie Hall. Her stage time is less than the main male characters, but she manages to make an equally big impact with famous number I Dreamed a Dream which will have you welling up before we’ve even reached the intermission.
Her daughter Cosette brings the warmth of love into Jean Valjean’s world as he becomes an avuncular figure in the young girl’s life, saving her from the clutches of grotesque innkeepers Monsieur Thénardier and Madame Thénardier, played larger than life by Martin Ball and Sophie-Louise Dann.
The odious pair creep through the musical preying on the poor and stealing from the rich, but they’re also a hoot to watch which brings welcome peals of laughter amidst all the harrowing sorrow. Their rendition of Master of the House is a delight to watch as they show off just how crooked they are, robbing shoes from the blind and popping live budgies in a mincer sending feathers flying.
Many musicals just have one stand out song, but they come thick and fast in Les Misérables which is entirely sung. As time unfolds, real foot stompers such as Red and Black and Do You Hear the People Sing? are odes to patriotism which can’t help but stir you into rooting for the rebellious students.
Then, of course, there’s the mammoth set pieces. Giant barricades and clever use of lighting to create a tunnel effect make the Theatre Royal stage look larger and of greater depth than it ever has before as we get swept up in the uprisings, so much so you can almost feel the bullets whizzing past your head.
As in all times of strife, there’s displays of true love too as Marius (Harry Apps) and an older Cosette (Bronwen Hanson) manage to find each other in between the gun battles.
It’s the underdog Éponine – played with feistiness by Tegan Bannister – who stole my heart though and her rendition of the haunting On My Own is another moment that will have you reaching for the Kleenex.
Though he may be little, Gavroche (Joseph Sheppard) also proves a huge presence as this charming little Artful Dodger scurries through the nooks and crannies of the barricades and joins in the fight for liberty and freedom.
By the time we reach the rousing finale, your emotions will have been on a real rollercoaster, from the devastatingly dramatic to the first flushes of love, but you’ll be feeling far from miserable about such a quality night at the theatre.