LES MISERABLES – School Edition
Artshouse, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 8th March, 2018
Stratford Musical Theatre Company’s young division tackle the ‘schools version’ of the renowned Boubil & Schonberg musical adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel – a story that is grimmer than an omnibus edition of EastEnders. All the scenes and songs are here but the running time is abridged by about half an hour. It’s an ambitious project but the stripped-down setting works rather well, giving the space entirely to the youthful performers. Director Judi Walton is to be commended for the discipline and commitment she has instilled in her multitudinous chorus, who get on and off quickly and efficiently and sing really well – and as though they mean it.
There is much to relish from the principal characters. I’ll reel off some highlights: Florence Cain’s expressive Fantine displays emotional depth – her ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ is a knockout. Elisea Cooper’s Eponine, feeling the pangs of unrequited love, is also strong. Marius (a fresh-faced Tristan Barford) is excellent – by the time we get to ‘Empty Chairs and Empty Tables’, he can do no wrong in my eyes. Mollie Dibb’s Cosette hits piercing high notes with apparent ease, while Rachel McDonnell’s Madame Thernadier is a just about perfectly pitched piece of musical theatre character acting. As her husband, Monsieur Thernadier, John Luke Goodman shows promise but needs to ensure his energy levels are consistent throughout his delivery, rather than throwing away some of the gags. Nathan Woolley makes a rousing Enjolras, while Samuel Littell’s cocky, Cockney Gavroche could put the Artful Dodger to shame.
Heading the cast as bread thief Jan Valjean, Isaac Aston has some powerful moments, ultimately bringing the house down with ‘Bring Him Home’.
All in all, this production is impressively performed but where I have an issue is the speed of it all. We rattle through the show at a rate of knots; perhaps musical director Sam Young is worried that the pubs might be shut before it’s finished. The result is that many moments are robbed of their impact. There is more to musical theatre than hitting the notes and getting the words out. The characters need time to emote, to think, to react. Here, they barely get chance to breathe. And so, for example, Alexander Fox’s Javert is denied his menace and his anguish as he races through his pieces; the death of Eponine also happens too fast… It’s a pity we skip over the surface of the songs when this talented mob of youngsters clearly has the potential for greater emotional depth.