Reviewed by Nigel Chester
I first heard of the musical Les Misérables when my old school friend was taken to a London theatre in the mid 1990’s. She reported back that she hated every moment, this wasn’t a bright and bouncy, happy go lucky play, it was about The French Revolution. How I wondered back then could you make a play about such a thing and more to the point why.
Now I know.
I can tell you that this is so much more than a popular uprising, this in, Victor Hugo’s own words is “A progress from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsehood to truth… from Hell to Heaven From nothingness to God”
When written the story was contemporary it begins in 1815 and culminates in 1832 with the June rebellion of Paris. This isn’t about the politics of France in the 19th century, it’s about the people. And people don’t change fundamentally with time, attitudes fashion and beliefs might but people don’t. We all need to feel safe and secure, be able to love and be loved to have peace and happiness and it’s to these ends that Hugo weaves his story and Cameron Mackintosh produced the play; Apparently it came to him in a moment whilst watching The Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist. He saw Gavroche with his impish charm and decided there and then that he would produce the play.
And what a play. I can honestly say its epic, extraordinarily breathtakingly, exquisite.
We were fortunate to see Les Misérables at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford. This was our first visit To Bradford and I hope it won’t be our last. Everything about it was beyond our expectation. Firstly, we parked easily at The Broadway a bright clean car park attached to a fantastic shopping centre it’s the cheapest car parking that we have ever had in a city, 5pm till midnight is £1. It was less than five minutes’ walk up to the theatre. In reality it took us much longer than that as we were distracted by everything around us, firstly The Wool Exchange, no yarn, but the most amazing Waterstones that I have ever been in. We then walked past bars and restaurants and on to City Park. The Alhambra dominated the skyline with its iconic large domed turret and giant pairs of Corinthian columns opened in 1914 and listed Grade II seventy years later. Inside was just as impressive with its proscenium arch and a main house capacity of 1,400.
So, what to expect on stage. I don’t have the ability to tell you how this three-hour long experience will move you. In one of the songs ‘Do you hear the people sing’ there is a line “when the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums” I feel that this sums up the play you become so absorbed in the characters, the music so skilfully delivered under the direction of Ben Atkinson’s orchestra.
The story follows the progress of Jean Valjean (Killian Donnelly, what a voice this man has) in his quest to become a better man, breaking parole following his release from prison after 19 years as prisoner 24601, Valjean is pursued relentlessly throughout the play by Javert (Nic Greenshields) a prison officer, later policeman, intent on putting Valjean back behind bars.
Unusually for any play we are introduced to pivotal characters throughout the entirety of it. You could be mistaken for thinking its Fantine (Katie Hall) story or that of her daughter Cosette (the child, Amelia Minto and as an adult Bronwen Hanson) but the reality is these people are chapters in Valjean’s life, each changes him some in small way and some in such fundamental ways that the very being of the man evolves. The Bishop of Digne is on the stage for mere minuets but his actions change the course of Valjean’s life beyond recognition and in turn Valjean changes the people he meets.
Hugo’s novel is one of the longest in history at 1,900 pages the play is as previously stated 3 hrs. long with just a 15-minute interval it would be impossible for me to give you any meaningful plot summary. But what I can tell you is that this is world class its scene changes as complex as any you will ever see. A whole house and street appeared magical on the stage I am sure that in reality my attention was just diverted stage right. We saw miles of Paris sewers a ballroom with glittering costumes and partying. The lighting and projection (Beky Parry) are phenomenal. There was not a crack or a chink in this production that would let it down in any way. Its mesmerizing breath taking. Every costume, wig, step or note sung was the very best that you can imagine. The music will live in your head long after the last quieted note has died. This is a production completely sung but I would hesitate to call it a musical per se. This is so, so much more. It is perfection.
Finally, as the curtain closed, the entire house rose to its feet and the applause was deafening. My fellow audience obviously agreeing with me. I am now looking at the tour dates for my next visit and hopefully I will see you there.
Tickets cost from £24.50 to £69.50 (booking fees may apply).
Alhambra Theatre, Morley Street, Bradford, BD7 1AJ | 01274 432000