REVIEW: Les Misérables – Barbican Centre (25th Anniversary Tour)

I’m just home from seeing the 25th Anniversary touring production of the classic Boubil-Schonberg musical, Les Misérables.

Simply put, I cannot rave enough about this production – I’m at a loss as to where to even start with the review, there’s so much I would like to discuss! I had been chasing all across the UK for an invite to come and see this anniversary production (and had been doing so for over a year!) before I had a last-minute chance come up yesterday, and I am so so chuft to have finally seen it (and yes, I did get sniffly during bits of it heh!) – the wait was well worth it, and it was made even more special by getting to see it at the Barbican, where the magic all began on October 8th 1985 – exactly two months after I was born!

First off, I feel that I should put this review and production in context – considering it as is, i.e. a (just about Off) West End show, this production is totally awesome, however when taken as intended, as a piece of touring theatre, this is absolutely phenomenal. There are simply no other words for it!

Coming from Manchester originally, I’ve sat through more than my share of touring productions, and whilst they’re usually fair-to-good, they’re not even close to being comparable with the quality of this production. The money, care and attention that has been devoted to this production only serve to do the brand proud and this actually now excites me for the precedent and legacy that this hopefully establishes for other touring productions, who should see that if you get it right, you can charge those premium prices out in the regions, and really provide a top quality show to the masses!

Let’s move on to the casting for this 25th Anniversary production, and I have to hand it to casting director, James Orange, it was absolutely spot on! Flicking through the program, it transpires that nearly everyone in the cast was incredibly stage experienced, and there’s actually not one of the many principles who I’ve not already seen in at least one other show it would seem.

I’m very much inclined to agree with the New York Post who said that the casting of John Owen-Jones was second only to Colm Wilkinson, Owen-Jones was absolutely phenomenal in the role. West End stalwart Earl Carpenter’s portrayal of Javert gave me several of the vocal highlights of the night (check out his version of Stars below – I can’t rave about it enough, WOW!) and he was perfect in the role, and I’d also like to call out Rosalind James who played Eponine, as she really moved me with her hair-tingling rendition of ‘On My Own’).

I have to say, that I had a few early issues with Fantine, played by Madalena Alberto, and I somehow managed to sit through I Dreamed A Dream without feeling a shred of emotion… which was absolutely unforgivable in my opinion! Perhaps I was comparing it too much to Ruthie’s vocal, however I really didn’t get the feeling that Fantine was on the edge, had realised that she’d lost everything and had started to become so bitterly jaded. Acting wise, she was great, and in the following scene, I felt all those emotions, it’s just a pity that they didn’t seem to connect through the vocal. I should add that this isn’t any kind of criticism of the actress (after all, I am just a blogger!), however for such a high-profile song, I just think that it needs to be absolutely perfect and credible as I feel that a lot of values surrounding the whole production rest on it, and of course this may well influence the perception of others who are perhaps less-well-acquainted with the Les Mis story, and ultimately how they may judge it.

My friend, Brett, and I both agreed on the above point, and we also had a few other minor likeability issues with other characters in Act One (we’re looking at the Thénardiers here!), but these were all swiftly ironed out by Act Two and in the end, the other characters that we’d initially questioned, we found we ultimately loved a lot! 🙂

Of course, this production also has a certain (and yummy!) Gareth Gates in it! Whilst he’s vocally no Michael Ball, we found that in Act Two he really got into his stride with the acting and was actually rather good in the role. His portrayal did leave us with perhaps a more naive and ‘innocent’ Marius as opposed to the confident cocksure Michael Ball portrayal, however I think that this really worked with this production and helped make his character a little more likable!

Much has been made of the staging of this 25th Anniversary production, and rightly so, for it is a thing of magnificent beauty! The use of the video technology, props and all of the flats is simply remarkable and not something seen on the touring theatre circuit on this scale before. Certain moments of the production (e.g. Javert’s Soliloquy) really lend themselves to the use of this technology and the attention to detail was fantastic!

Hats off also go to Peter White and his orchestra, for it was absolutely divine to hear a full orchestra in the pit for this show (the decline of the use of which is my biggest bug-bear about the West End at the moment). I found it especially awesome when the horns kept coming in during the opening bars of At The End Of The Day, I actually got goosebumps and shivered – my favourite bit of the entire score.

Perhaps the only real ‘let-down’ for me (aside from I Dreamed A Dream) was how the end of Act One was staged – I felt that there could have been a more visually arresting display to close the act on, however this is only a very minor niggle, and certainly doesn’t impact on my over-all enjoyment of this production.

A quick note now about the Barbican itself, if I may indulge slightly, for I have never been to this venue before. I loved it! The swooshy doors at the wings of the auditorium were fantastic (I want some!), and the seating at the theatre was perfectly placed from what I could tell / experienced. We were sat in the centre at the back of the stalls, next to the tech desk, and we had a perfect view over everything. I liked that when I went to buy some water during the interval, the shopkeep asked if I would like it at room temperature or cold – I’ve never had a choice before! (FYI, cold!).

Speaking of the interval, those huge jaw like safety curtains are very scary. Also, when I went to use the bathroom during the interval, I came across something that I have *NEVER* seen happen before – all of the men that were in there using the facilities *ahem* (and there must have been about 30) were all whistling along in time to Master Of The House – heh!! Amazing! (and yes, of course I joined in, heh!).

The audience, incidentally, were the most well-behaved that I’ve ever seen an audience be – nobody got up to go to the loo halfway through the Act, there was little coughing, and no sweet paper rustling – everybody was sat captivated completely by the action on the stage, and the thunderous standing ovation that the cast received at the curtain call was, without doubt, the loudest and most enthusiastic that I have ever heard in any theatre that I’ve been in – wow!

The one production that I’d now really like to see would be the O2 25th Anniversary Gala performance on 3rd October (alas, I’ve been told there’s no way I’ll be able to get invited to see that, gah) – which looks to be absolutely epic! If you’ve got tickets to this, I am very jealous! 🙂

All in all, I will hands down say that seeing Les Misérables at the Barbican has been the theatrical highlight of 2010 – I cannot praise this production highly enough and would urge everyone to go and see it if presented with the opportunity!

The Les Misérables 25th Anniversary tour will end on October 2nd at the Barbican after a near-year long tour of the UK, so this really is your last chance to see it! GO!

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As an aside, earlier on, I posted a (hopefully!) fun little SMS exchange that I had with my pal Brett after seeing this, feel free to check it out 🙂

SPOTIFY USERS: You may be interested in the 25th Anniversary Cast Recording

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About Gari

Thirty-Two year old northern lad; living out in the Peak District and rediscovering life after having had a brain tumour.

7 Responses

  1. I went to see this last night, and absolutely agree with almost everything you’ve written. It’s an excellent production, and it’s definitely rekindled my love for the show 🙂

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  2. Nigel

    By pure chance I saw the second ever production at the Barbican. It was arranged by someone else and I had no idea beforehand what we were going to see. I can still remember most of the original show as if it was yesterday.

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  3. Doreen-Kate White

    I played Young Cosette in the 25th Anniversary 2010!!! (10 shows) Mayflower Theatre, Southampton then got asked if I wanted to go to The Barbican, London (11 shows)!!! I was the Young Cosette of the last tour show in The Barbican!!!

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