Les Misérables: Join the show’s spectacular revolution

Written by on 8th November 2022

A man, tired and desperate, arrives at a Church, hoping for some refuge. The bishop grants him food and shelter, yet in return the man steals the bishop’s silver. Eight years later, the same man enters a struggling factory, but this time as the Mayor. He tries to help a woman who is being mistreated by her colleagues and factory foreman, desperate to support her.

After its opening night on Wednesday, Les Misérables continues to mesmerise the audience at the Sunderland Empire, 42 years after the show first premiered in 1980. Based on the 1862 book by Victor Hugo, this musical transports you from a modern theatre back to the French Revolution, where prisoner Jean Valjean (Will Barratt) is seeking reformation for his crimes while being pursued by Inspector Javert (Nic Greenshields.)

With its powerful yet meaningful vocals and impassioned acting, this story captures the essence of a run-down, impoverished Parisian society; the audience can witness poverty, suspense, love and desire without even leaving their seats.

While some adaptations use extravagant settings to capture a certain atmosphere, this musical accompanies the complex plot with simplistically subtle staging to present a raw and honest interpretation of the characters.

Darkened lighting meets eerie staging to create a beautiful, yet haunting stage. But rather than creating an air of mystery, these effects shift the focus to the pain-stricken faces that tale centre stage, exposing the harrowing reality of the oppressed Parisian civilians that is very different from that of the modern city of love.

While the group numbers are extraordinarily powerful in themselves, such as At The End Of The Day and Red and Black – with harmonised notes and united agony – it’s the more stripped back solo pieces, like Empty Chairs and Empty Tables and I Dreamed A Dream, that truly steal the show.

Performer Nic Greenshields (Javert), for his sombre number Stars, stands with nothing but dimmed lighting, yet darkness seemed to become his weapon as the audience was rendered silent. A single sound would surely be frowned upon as his voice becomes the epitome of strength despite the softer nature of the song.

Javert’s insubordinate rival within the musical, Jean Valjean (played by understudy Will Barratt), is in fact his equal in terms of singing – no vocal crimes have been committed by this ex-prisoner. As the stage goes quiet during the battle between the student revolutionaries and the French army, Jean Valjean remains to sit solitary on the magnificent barricade structure and proceeds to grace the audience with perhaps the most iconic song of Les Misérables: Bring Him Home. Behind the graceful notes and utter power of Barratt’s voice, lie poignant undertones that utter a silent prayer to the audience from his character.

But then, there’s Lauren Drew playing the role of the desperate Fantine fighting for the wellbeing of her daughter, Cosette. Her stellar performance of I Dreamed A Dream truly was that of a fantasy as it not only displayed her outstanding vocals, but presented her passion as both her character and herself as a performer.

As the final note of Les Misérables is sung and the cast unite on stage, it’s a question of whether the emerging tissues were due to the tragic plot or out of admiration for the high-quality performances.

Les Misérables is running at the Sunderland Empire until November 19 and tickets can be purchased here.

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