Every show a sell-out; every show a standing ovation.
No surprise to those who know Young Gen’s work, or who saw them man the barricades in 2006.This new production is every bit the equal of that one – some of the cast lucky enough to be in both. And many of this company are making their final appearance with CYGAMS. Because, though it’s easy to forget, this is a youth company, constantly renewing itself.
Ray Jeffery’s direction achieves unbelievable professionalism, in a seamless show where music [Bryan Cass in charge] stage management [Dawn Lawton heading the team], costume, sound and light come together in a flawless whole. [The dockside brothel Lovely Ladies just one of many impressive stage pictures.]
And then of course there are the performers. Many of the huge cast are alternating roles, giving them more to learn, but giving more of the youngsters a chance to shine. So Henri de Lausun, for instance, is a student revolutionary some nights, a strongly sung Javert on others. [The boys’ voices are commendably mature generally; Tom Tull’s Javert is just as spine-tingling in “Stars”.]
Most major characters are shared, and it is interesting to see different approaches to these iconic roles. So we enjoy Callum Crisell’s dissolute, evil, baby-faced Thenardier, as well as Josh Butcher’s priceless gawky, grimacing Master of the House – he is also the kindly Bishop in the Prologue.
Two brilliant heroes: Sam Toland’s assured, nuanced approach, or Chester Lawrence’s more visceral Valjean, emotionally charged especially at the start.The romantic Marius is shared between two experienced actors: Bart Lambert, passionate and direct, heartbreaking in A Little Fall of Rain, and Luke Higgins, a convincingly cerebral rebel, a touchingly contemplative survivor in the deserted café.
Though this is very much a company show, with the ensembles one of its great strengths, some performances do stand out [though there’s not a single weak link in either cast]. Alice Masters makes a vulnerable Fantine, but knows how to sell a show-stopper. Sophie Walker has great presence as the feisty Eponine, one of the most complex characters in the piece. And Kathryn Peacock’s Cosette has an attractive vocal style.
As the hot-headed leader of the young revolutionaries, Andrew Steel gives an inspiringly impassioned performance, and Gavroche, youngest recruit to the cause, is a cheeky, confident Jackson Buckler, and not only in his spotlight moments.The trio and quartet towards the end of Act One are both beautifully sung and staged, there’s a poignant nobility to the staging of Empty Chairs, and the enormous forces are always thoughtfully deployed.
Do You Hear The People Sing is built skilfully, both musically and visually; the conga exit from the Ballroom [the setting effectively suggested by a couple of swags and a lintel] and the whole company entrance for the rousing finale are perfectly timed.