Les Miserables

Aug 3 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✭✭   Hear the people sing

Inverleith Church Hall (Venue 120) Fri 1 – Sat 9 August 2014

Skilful, energetic and packing a real emotional punch, Forth Children’s Theatre’s Les Misérables is as impressive a musical production as you are likely to see on the Fringe – or anywhere else.

Ronan Rafferty as Marius. Photo credit: Mark Gorman

Ronan Rafferty as Marius. Photo credit: Mark Gorman

Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s musical, with English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, has of course been a worldwide success for many years.

The School Edition as seen in this production is slightly trimmed but remains a complex and challenging work. The storyline, from Victor Hugo’s huge novel, of reformed convict Jean Valjean and his battles with policeman Javert sprawls across early 19th century France and can be somewhat bewildering, but is admirably clear here.

Having such a huge and talented cast as FCT always seem to be able to call on could lead to a temptation to fill the stage with constant movement, but director Claire Stewart shows admirable restraint and variety here, with the result that the big set-piece numbers are even more effective.

“beautifully sung and convincingly acted”

This restraint is typified by Esther Scott’s performance as the doomed Fantine. I Dreamed A Dream has taken on such a life of its own outside the show that it can become a belted out showstopper that completely loses all emotional impact. Here it is almost low key – beautifully sung and more importantly convincingly acted, every moment suggesting the broken and vulnerable woman the lyrics of the song suggest.

The chorus - Photo credit: Mark Gorman

The chorus. Photo credit: Mark Gorman

A through-sung musical such as this places immense stress on the musicians, who have no time to rest and no room to hide; they respond to this with real aplomb under Kerry-Anne Dougan’s leadership. It also means that any dramatic impact or character development must come through the songs. Concentrating on the quality of the singing can mean that the motivations of the characters can be difficult to work out.

That is not a problem here. Not only is the singing uniformly excellent, it has real dramatic power. Gus Harrower is so good as the young, embittered Jean Valjean that it seems unlikely he will be able to carry off the emotional impact needed as the much older man of the closing scenes; in fact he becomes more impressive as the night progresses. The way he manages to control the top end of his range while adding just the right amount of emotion is exemplary.

Vocal coach Caitlin McGillivray has obviously done a great job. This is aided by unusually careful and clear sound, which like the rest of the technical side of the production could certainly show some recent big-budget touring productions a thing or two.

“a difficult balancing act”

The quality of the performances is consistent all down the line. Alex Bathe’s stiff-backed Inspector Javert demonstrates both the drive and the inner conflict of the character. Sophie Williams convincingly conveys the giddiness of young love as Fantine’s daughter Cosette, while Ronan Rafferty pulls off a difficult balancing act as her suitor Marius, the juvenile lead who suddenly becomes burdened by survivor guilt. Hayley Scott’s Eponine is extremely tuneful and utterly sympathetic.

Photo Mark Gorman

The cast. Photo credit: Mark Gorman

Charlie West and Emily Jackson are superb as the villainous Thernadiers, wringing every last drop of comedy from the roles without being at all one-dimensional. Reuben Woolard radiates sincerity as the ill-fated revolutionary Enjolras, while Hamish Misselbrook is impressive as the bishop whose act of charity sets in motion Valjean’s redemption.

There are also noteworthy contributions from some younger cast members. The portrayal of Cosette as a child can be overly sentimental, but Orla Bayne carries it off admirably, while Charlie Park (the urchin Gavroche) simply looks as if he was born to be on a stage.

There is not a weak link in the whole ensemble, and the skill and energy never diminish from first to last. Katie Renton and Jack Nixon’s choreography makes for some spectacular moments, but the production is perhaps most impressive in its more low-key, quieter moments due to the realism of emotion on display.

It is not often that every element of a production comes together quite as successfully as this. The whole production sweeps the audience along and it all seems to be over far too soon. Unreservedly recommended – if you are lucky enough to get your hands on a ticket.

Running time 2 hours 45 minutes including interval
Inverleith Church Hall, 41-43 Inverleith Gardens, EH3 5PR (Venue 120)
Fri 1 – Sat 9 Aug 2014 (not Sun 3)
Daily at 19.30; matinees Sats 14.30
Tickets from edfringe.com/whats-on/les-miserables (Entire run sold out)
Company website: forthchildrenstheatre.wordpress.com


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