C’est magnifique! It is easy to see why this show has become so successful and still draws capacity audiences, since its core themes seem to explore the very essence of the human condition. While love and redemption run through Les Miserables as deep and true as the river Seine, providing scope for more passion and emotion than most people can bear and still maintain dry eyes, the cleverly interwoven stories of one man’s striving for divine forgiveness with that of a nation seeking liberation against oppression adds another powerful dimension.
In the case of Young Gen there is the additional and hugely touching element of the potential vulnerability of the young people performing. There is an initial awareness of the youth of those on-stage but as the production unfolds that awareness is replaced by the total conviction in the quality of the voices and the credibility of the characters, leaving you wondering why you had any initial fears.
As a sung-through show without the usually obvious musical cues for principals and requiring total vocal mastery any group would find Les Miserables extremely challenging and yet Young Gen’s production was of such quality that the lines between amateur and professional have been blurred. This is what local theatre should be about; universal enjoyment, fantastic production values, full houses, standing ovations and ringing tills. Civic Theatre management take note. I would love to know if there was a better payday for Chelmsford Theatres in 2012 than the day when the final tally for Young Gen’s Les Miserables was reckoned up. So give the amateurs a break!
As far as the detail of the production was concerned I loved the largely empty stage, which provided a sense of desolation for the chain gang. The steps and rostra at the back allowed the creation of different tableaus during the ensemble scenes and prevented unnecessary crowding. Extensive and judicious use of mist lent an air of repression, loneliness or mystery depending on the scene. Changing scene using large props stage left or right was seamless and allowed the story to maintain good pace. The barricade worked really well as did all the sound effects. I particularly liked the loud hailer effect directed at the students at the barricade. Most impressive of all was the skilled use of lighting throughout. Rarely did we see “natural” light since the overall impression was to maintain an air of gloom, poverty, repression and when we did get white light is was often from several directions, including floor level, bringing an almost heavenly quality to the character which was being lit.
The voices and acting ability of all the principals were superb, bringing tears to the eyes in the case of Valjean’s Bring Him Home and a lump in the throat during A Heart Full of Love. It was also noticeable that the emotion required for proper characterisation was not compromised for the sake of a perfect vocal line. So we did hear heavy breathing at times, or sighing, or anger or distress. This added to the credibility of the characters and helped to draw the audience into the storyline.
The balance between pit and stage was just right and the orchestra was wonderful. I must make special mention of the Thenardiers, whose performance was absolutely hilarious but I can honestly say that the whole cast was fantastic and it would be wrong to single anyone out from a genuinely great company show. A full house every night is testimony to the attraction of the show and the power of marketing; a standing ovation is a testimony to the quality of the production and its company.
Reviewer – Stewart Adkins
Regional Representative – District 8