Les Misérables (2019 tour) - Musical Theatre Review

Alright, confession time. Until now, I had never seen Les Misérables on stage. My theatrically minded friends have always been somewhat agog at this. I have seen bits of the film, know the classic songs off by heart, watched all the anniversary documentaries and the BBC drama adaptation with glee (I know, I know, that wasn’t the musical…) But, I had never felt the need to see it in the flesh. This all changed last Friday evening.

Les Misérables is on a huge tour around the UK and is currently based at Milton Keynes Theatre. For a touring piece of theatre, this sure has some bite to it! It has a sense of familiarity and warmth as well as offering some fresh perspectives on staging and character.

With a huge and incredibly hardworking ensemble, not to mention a beautifully full orchestra, we get the real feel of a full West End spectacular here. Matt Kinley’s beautiful set is a thing to behold, carefully slotting into scenes, creating space, function, and emotive setting. Added to this are the incredibly clever use of projections throughout. Based on the real paintings of Victor Hugo, these add a delightfully stormy sense of occasion. These projections and some innovative staging also mean huge set pieces like the sewer scene and (spoilers…!) Javert’s death feel incredibly fresh and exciting. These moments could not have been achieved without the simply gorgeous lighting design from Paule Constable. The theatre nerd in me was enthralled by the level of production detail here. Bravo to the creative team.

MT powerhouse Killian Donnelly plays the lead, and from the very beginning we immediately feel safe in his hands. His Jean Valjean is assured, powerful and full of electric energy (even when he’s an old man near death!) His foil, Javert, is played with gravitas and aplomb by Nic Greenshields. These performances provide a strong structure for the show. Their shared scenes are tension-filled and well-played out, but I must also commend both actors on their scenes with the younger cast which had everyone gulping back tears.

Indeed, there are solid performances from all the leads, particularly Bronwen Hanson, who has made Cossette much grittier and full of vigour. The ensemble also give in depth performances, full of individuality – a real skill. They all have such good fun in the boisterous Thénardier scenes, although I found the couple’s opening scene a little lacking in diction to begin with. It’s wonderful to watch them crash the wedding in the second act though – great relationship building from Martin Ball and Sophie-Louise Dann.

I also have to mention the utterly engaging performance of Joseph Sheppard as Gavroche, whose last scenes moved me to tears. It’s rare to see such a focused energy in a young performer, and I delighted in watching his relationship with the sceptical alcoholic revolutionary Grantaire (an excellent Ruben Van Keer). A beautiful portrayal from one so young, full of thought and fire. Big things ahead methinks.

So in short, I don’t know why I waited so long. Les Misérables feels like one of those big cultural totems that hold up our British theatrical tradition. It’s worth catching this touring production whether you are a complete Les Mis virgin or a stalwart fan – there’s something for everyone here from breath-taking production values and set, to the classic songs you know and love (and sometimes love to hate...)

Running at Milton Keynes Theatre til 8th June, then continuing on tour.

Best Availability Monday to Thursday performances. Call the theatre’s dedicated Les Misérables booking line on 01908 547669 (open Monday to Saturday, 12 – 6pm) or visit: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/les-miserables/milton-keynes-theatre/.
Check daily for returns and last minute ticket releases.

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