REVIEW: Les Miserables, Queens Theatre, London ✭✭✭✭✭

Last Updated on 10th March 2021

Douglas Mayo reviews Les Miserables directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird as it prepares to end its phenomenal run at the Queen’s Theatre, London.

Les Miserables review Queens Theatre

Les Miserables
Queens Theatre, London
11 July 2019
5 Stars

Like the musical loon that I am, there was no way that I couldn’t see off Trevor Nunn and John Caird’s production of Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre soon to be renamed the Sondheim Theatre.

Perhaps the greatest decision made by Cameron Mackintosh in relationship to Les Miserables was to accept Trevor Nunn’s proposal to produce the show initially at the Barbican Theatre under the auspices of the Royal Shakespeare Company.  Marshalling one of the greatest production teams ever assembled they set about creating a musical based on Victor Hugo’s novel that was to not only confound the initial critics but would go on to run longer than any other musical in West End history first at the Palace Theatre, then at the Queen’s. It would go on to conquer Broadway and have two revivals, not to mention the productions which have played in 52 countries around the world.

The production closing tonight (Saturday 13th July 2019) has been a scarce ticket this week as fans flocked for one last look and we weren’t disappointed.

The beauty of Les Miserables as envisaged by Nunn and Caird is that during the show’s 3 hour running time, audiences are transported across 17 years and half of France as Jean Valjean is pursued by Javert. Effortlessly cinematic in its presentation, the incredible cast of this show along with a battalion of backstage crew make it all look like child’s play, but don’t be fooled! . Look closely and you’ll realise that with the exception of two very large items and a warehouse full of tables, chairs, cups, bottles, and the odd cart, what you see is John Napier’s version of a black box. Audiences are asked to bring their imaginations to complete the equation. Napier’s barricades are members of this cast. I am still in awe of how they glide almost balletically across the stage effortlessly spinning and merging together. Combined with the infamous revolve it’s a feat that kept us coming back to see what Napier would do next!

Les Miserables Dean Chisnall
Dean Chisnall as Jean Valjean. Photo: Johan Persson

Dean Chisnall takes on the role of Jean Valjean. It’s a sterling performance, one of the best I have seen. Beautifully nuanced throughout Chisnall elegantly captures the frustration, anger, faith and compassion of this amazing man. It’s one hell of a sing, and it would be easy at times to overdo the emotion especially in the show’s opening prologue, but here it’s all controlled effortlessly. It’s all about playing the truth of it here. There’s no need for theatrics and you get the ultimate example of this in the prayer-like Bring Him Home, the audience hushed, the stillness palpable and the rendition of this song exquisite.

Pursuing Valjean is Bradley Jaden’s Javert. It’s a tricky role, Javert is not the baddie here. He is a man who believes that things are black and white, no exceptions and whose life is guided by a deep faith. His pursuit of Valjean ends up being the ultimate torment for this lawman as he  constantly confounds Javert’s expectations.  Valjean unknowingly unravels this man’s very reason for existence. Jaden, for the most part, seems to realise that shouting through the lyrics are not necessary to engender authority and power. The “public’ side of Javert, composed and regulated perfectly balances his private moments especially in the lead up to his suicide where he is fraught and crumbling. Stars was a highlight.

Bradley Jaden
Bradley Jaden as Javert. Photo: Johan Persson

Luckily Chisnall and Jaden are a perfect combination vocally and physically so that the menace, the thrill and the conflict is present throughout. The Confrontation was as exciting as I have ever seen it and certainly thrilling in its physicality. That menace carried perfectly throughout the evening with each man never overstepping keeping things on a knife-edge.

Providing the myriad of colour to this ultimate chase are the ensemble of actors who not only play the colourful characters that inhabit Hugo’s story but also a plethora of incidental characters to boot. Steven Meo and Vivien Parry were equally comic and menacing as the infamous Thenardier. The manic stage business of Master Of The House was handled with aplomb with every laugh achieved and a few moments that I hadn’t seen before kept it fresh. Toby Miles (Marius) Elena Skye (Eponine) and Charlotte Kennedy (Cosette) took the Love Montage which can be saccharine and infused it with honesty and vigour combined with a near note-perfect delivery. Samuel Edwards made Enjoras a believable revolutionary. His realisation that all was lost was palpable and his effortless acrobatics off the barricade to his death impressive. Carley Stenson, you stole my heart with your beautiful interpretation of I Dreamed A Dream.

Carley Stenson
Carley Stenson as Fantine. Photo: Johan Persson

The grotesque sexuality of the Lovely Ladies aside (well done ladies), there were notable performances from Sam Harrison as the sadistic dandy Bamatabois, Adam Bayjou as the factory foreman, James Hume as the Bishop Of Digne.

Antony Hansen, Barnaby Hughes, Ciaran Joyce, James Nicholson, Ben Tyler, Joe Vetch, Raymond Walsh, and Andrew York were brilliant as Thenardier’s Gang and as the students. I was particularly moved by Raymond Walsh’s Grantaire extending a moment of physical emotion to Samuel Edwards during Drink With Me. You could not have asked for a more honest offer of emotion or a more truthful response to that outpouring.

Les Miserables
Vivien Parry and Steven Meo as The Thenardiers. Photo: Johan Persson

Mick Potter’s superb sound design which made every word crystal clear also made me aware of the changes to the orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker. Gone are some of the synthetic sounds that were part of the Les Miserables musical DNA. John Cameron’s original intentions are still there for the most part but I noticed that some of the accompaniment seemed a bit more florid than in the past and it took a bit of getting used to.

Steve Moss’s superb orchestra was on form all night. The score sparkled and being a musical I consider these musicians very much a part of the cast providing as nuanced a performance as the actors onstage.

What comes next? We are now entering uncharted territory. The current production of Les Miserables conquered the world and it inspired a generation of theatre-goers and theatre-makers. The London production was the last standing production of the original staging, the production that kept the show running for three decades. On Broadway, the new production was presented during the latest revival and to my knowledge, there has never been a wholesale change of a production so drastic mid-run ever. I am at a loss to understand why the change has been felt necessary. The production is still as vibrant as ever and still seems to draw exceptional crowds. This production is like a vintage Rolls Royce, superb craftsmanship, classic engineering, a known reliable brand. Here’s hoping that this classic is not being replaced with a cheaper flashier model that may not last the distance or get Les Miserables to its 50th year.

Finally, a thank you to all of the actors, crew, front of house staff, musicians and management who have lovingly kept this production running. So many people have been involved in this production over the years, not just here but all over the world and to you all I say thank you.

BOOK TICKETS FOR THE NEW PRODUCTION OF LES MISERABLES

 

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