Five Star Theatre have gathered a strong, talented cast of young performers from across the area for this production of Boublil and Schonberg’s classic musical. Only currently available on amateur release for youth productions, Les Misérables is a gift of a show for any performer to get their teeth into and always draws a large audience. A successful box office is guaranteed – but audience expectations run high.
The cast of 51 performers aged 7-18 have clearly put a lot of time and hard work into this production. From the youngest street urchin to the principal cast, each performance is confident, slick and delivered with enthusiasm. This is a vocally demanding show and the whole company meet the challenge head on with strong choral singing, sharp harmonies and solo performances that show great maturity. They are led with a charming performance from Tom Cowan as Jean Valjean who surpassed his years to play the role of the convict as he aged from young to elderly man. He was well matched by Luke Marriott as Javert who was perfectly imposing on stage for this role. Together the two created an excellent partnership that carried the show along.
There were strong all round performances too from Sophie Brant (Fantine), Sasha Roberts (Gavroche) and Julian Carrouché (Enjolras) while Hannah Wade (Eponine) and Cait Bridgman (Cosette) shone with emotionally-charged performances. The final scene combining many of these voices was beautiful.
Completing the principal line-up Charlie Brayson gave a gentle, affectionate performance as Marius while Lewis Graham and Catarina Mendez were an excellent comic pairing as Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, and Megan Gyles sang well as Little Cosette.
It is often apparent in productions such as this that casting the show must have been a difficult task, as there are so many performers in smaller and chorus roles who stand out as much as the principals. From their roles in the chorus a few stood out that were worthy of mention and who I am sure we will see again in future – full credit to Benjamin Mulley (Feuilly) Emily Goodwin (Factory Girl) and Ella Sparks (Factory Worker) for making the most of their time on stage.
The staging for such a large company has been handled extremely well by the production team, with directors Ethan J Smith and Sophie Pulley making good use of the space available and while this is not a particularly dance-heavy show the incorporation of Catty Giles’ subtle choreography is effective, particularly in the busy wedding scene where different group dances helped build the crowded room atmosphere. This is all aided by a simple but impressive set design by Tim Belk: the appearance of the barricade in act 2 provoking a ‘wow’ from many audience members around us.
There were only a few points. I would have liked a little more light on the stage, as from our seats at the back of the gloomy Benn Hall I struggled to make out the features of many of the cast’s faces – particularly in the early scenes. It was a pity that the production used recorded backing track instead of live accompaniment. Having seen this version before with live music I know it is an option, but whether through limitation of the venue or necessity of budget and performance licence, the lack of flexibility in the music did lessen the impact of the beautiful score. At times it felt like it hindered the talented cast of performers, as without the ability to slow the tempo to let the singers’ emotions lead the big well-known ballads, the show raced along and lost some of the intensity in places.
And the final distraction was the number of people in the audience who were constantly checking their smart phones for an update on the time or in some cases sending messages mid-performance. The young cast were working their guts out to entertain onstage and it was such a shame that this was not being fully observed by those in the audience. A growing sign of the times perhaps, and not something I would usually remark on in a review; but if companies such as Five Star Theatre are evidently working so hard to encourage young people to get into live theatre – and doing an impeccable job of it – then the least we as their audience can do is encourage them too!
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