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  • Writer's pictureandybram69

Les Miserables

A high def production for a hi-def world, this is quite possibly the best piece of stage theatre ever performed at Sunderland Empire.

Victor Hugo’s tale of the French revolution, brought to life by Claude-Michel Schonberg’s Book & Music and accompanied by the iconic Herbert Kretzmer score is instantly recognisable by ANYONE who has ever enjoyed musical theatre. For decades it has set the standard of perfection on stage and to many who have seen multiple productions, each incarnation brings a new take on this classic. Sets that immediately transport you to deepest Paris at the start of the 19th century, costumes that reek of the downtrodden, desperate to rise up against the bourgeoise and a songbook that is instantly recognisable.

Leading us through this version is Will Barratt as Jean Valjean (prisoner 24681) Barratt conjures up metamorphosis after metamorphosis as he transcends from lowly slave prisoner to free man, major, respected city gentleman and finally doting father figure. He brilliantly captures our hearts, not through us pitying Valjean, but through us believing in his quest to be the best version of himself whilst all the while being chased by his past, namely the ever present spectre of Javert (Nic Greenshields in his awe-inspiring best). Chasing Valjean through the French countryside and through the decades following his release, we watch Javert’s descent into abject madness, haunted by the wraith like figure of Valjean who seems to appear at every turn and then dissolve again into the shadows.

The dynamic between these two is one of the most enduring and powerful twin-pieces in theatre and in Greenshields and Barratt we have a pair who feed to and from each other; Valjean’s fatherly lament in “Bring him Home” shows just how far he has moved from his once selfish cynicism to being a true, unconditional father. On the other hand, Javert’s soul wrenching acceptance that he will never be free of Valjean, first through “Stars” and then the “Soliloquy” makes, by the end, this huge man seem small and childlike.

Lauren Drew (the Voice) is very believable as Fantine, falling from comfort through the petty jealousy of others and eventually succumbing to the cruelty of the world in which she lives. Siobhan O’Driscoll is a wonderful Eponine, chasing her unrequited love Marius through the streets of Paris and ultimately paying the greatest price, all the while trying to bring him and Cossette (Paige Blankson) together. The wicked inn keeper Thenardier (Ian Hughes) and his Madame wife (Helen Walsh) provide much comedy without slipping into pantomime; they tread a fine line between ignorant bliss and callous manipulation.

Matt Kinley’s amazing sets are worthy of the ticket price alone; effortlessly morphing between seedy docks, Parisienne suburbs and downtown battlegrounds. Mick Potter’s soundscapes evoke the turmoil of change, the drive of rebellion and yet but it is Paule Constable’s lighting that for me was the most amazing element of the show; never have I experienced such craft and expertise in lighting – multiple levels going back through stage, the innovative way she has lit from the back to the front and into the audience means we are not just sat watching the performance, we are brought right into the stage, and her phenomenal way of portraying the final barricade battle, the ingenious use of crossed spots to denote resistance fighters caught in the crosshairs of the snipers and the heart-wrenching way she signals their final shots will live for ever more in the memory.

Never stopping for breath, this 3 hour classic will always attract full houses of new and returning patrons, but the way the whole audience rose as one at the end showed that this current version has lifted the show to even higher and newer heights.

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