In the UK theatre world there is arguably no show more established than Les Misérables: an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel of the same name with music and lyrics by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil. It is London’s longest running West End musical, opening in the city in 1985 and the production is a must-see for any budding theatre fan. I first saw the show as a teenager, after learning the songs in my singing lessons at school. Young Cosette’s ‘Castle On A Cloud’ was one of the first musical theatre songs that I learnt as an 11 year old and when I had matured vocally, we attempted ‘On My Own’ and ‘I Dreamed A Dream’. I was introduced to Les Miz at a young age and the experience has stuck with me over the years as I began to take more of an interest in theatre.
October 2022 is a very exciting month for Canterbury theatregoers as the UK tour of Les Misérables has found a home in Kent for four weeks. The production’s arrival has been much-anticipated, so much so that a fantastic billboard-style poster of the iconic Cosette illustration has been put up in the window of the theatre. I was ecstatic to receive an invitation to the theatre’s press night on Tuesday evening, have the opportunity to pen a Les Misérables tour review and see how the production had been adapted for regional theatres. Ahead of the performance I had so many questions. How would the production team approach the many different sets? How would they recreate the revolutionary atmosphere? The creative team behind the show put my inquisitive mind at ease from the moment the curtain rose at the start of the performance and we were transported to a bygone era of France.
Atmosphere and transformation of the theatre
When we arrived there was a blue, white and red overlay on the Marlowe building, conveying the French flag. It was a brilliant way to entice audiences, ahead of the show. Once we had stepped inside the foyer, there were also bunches of Les Miz-themed balloons in the French colours. They were placed on every floor, lining the stairs and completely transforming the ambiance of the theatre. This was such a wonderful way for the production to add some Les Miz personality to the Marlowe’s entrance halls.
The production is made up of a prologue and two acts, running for a lengthy 2 hours 50 minutes including a 15 minute interval. We are introduced to the protagonist Jean Valjean in the first few minutes and from that moment on we are taken on a whirlwind musical journey through his turbulent life. Valjean runs from Inspector Javert and the law, working to become a better person over his years of freedom. It is an emotional rollercoaster that does not pause for a moment in the first act, covering a large number of events and character’s stories which are set to non-stop songs.
I personally enjoyed how busy the first act was, but after 90 minutes of runtime I was ready for an interlude so that I could regather my thoughts on what we had just seen. The length of act two was much more manageable for a sung-through musical with next to no dialogue, bringing Valjean’s life story to a close.
Sets and staging
Les Miz had some of the most impressive touring sets that I have seen, with their incredible streets of Paris and barricade displays. It honestly felt as if the Marlowe was Les Miz’s permanent home, not a temporary base for a month of performances. From the moment that Jean Valjean and the chain gang were seen working on the boat in the prologue, I knew we were in for a visual treat staging-wise.
Losing count of the amount of locations that were depicted during the musical’s runtime, interestingly it was the Parisian sewers that stuck with me most. Act two centres around the spectacular barricade and following the devastating conflict, Valjean carries an injured Marius through the sewer gates and tries to find medical help. I was intrigued by how the creative team would transition to the sewers and try to replicate the same level of intricate design. The answer is they didn’t; instead the creative team opted for digital backdrops that depicted Valjeans surroundings as he travelled through the sewers. The moving images were really clever, toying with the audience’s sense of perspective.
Standout cast performances
It goes without saying that Les Misérables is a challenging musical to be a part of and the cast are an extremely talented group, performing the multi-part harmonies and emotional lyrics with conviction. Dean Chisnall is their frontman as Jean Valjean and he was tremendous in the role, meeting the vocal demands of the character, from the delicate tones of ‘Suddenly’ to the powerful ‘Who Am I?’.
Furthermore, Rachelle Ann Go gave me goosebumps with her depiction of Fantine: the single mother thrown out on the streets after getting dismissed from her factory job. Her rendition of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ was hauntingly beautiful, releasing so much of the character’s pent up pain and heartbreak.
Finally, Samuel Wyn-Morris was a born leader of The Friends of the ABC in the role of Enjolras. Samuel’s voice is incredibly strong and the sequence featuring ‘ABC Café / Red And Black’ and ‘Do You Hear The People Sing?’ was such a pinnacle moment in the show, with the revolutionaries preparing to fight. I felt very emotional hearing the first few bars of both revolutionary tracks. The show’s music and lyrics are nothing short of musical magic.
Four weeks of Les Miz in Kent!
What an incredible night at the theatre Tuesday evening was! In the ten plus years that have passed since I last saw the production, Les Misérables still remains one of the most emotional for me. With an incomparable score, passionate characters and astounding sets and staging, it was a theatrical experience like no other. I left the theatre feeling so excited that local audiences get a chance to enjoy such world-renowned musical theatre in their own area.
The Les Miz tour is playing at The Marlowe Theatre until Saturday 29th October, with performances six days a week (Monday – Saturday). Why not make the most of this rare opportunity to see such a huge musical as Les Miz in Canterbury city centre? Tickets can be purchased on the theatre’s website and the production is bound to move you with its emotional story, music and lyrics.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*Our tickets and programme for Les Misérables were gifted in exchange for a review of the performance.