Writers: Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Cameron Mackintosh & Herbert Kretzmer
Cast: Killian Donnelly, Nic Greenshields, Katie Hall, Tegan Bannister, Harry Apps, Bronwen Hanson, Martin Ball, Sophie-Louise Dann & Will Richardson
Review Date: October 11 2019
Performances: October 9-26 2019, 7.30pm & 2.30pm matinees
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool
Duration: 180 Minutes incl. interval
Age Rating: 12+
It has been a long time coming, but Les Misérables has finally returned to Liverpool’s Empire Theatre in what is the highlight of the autumn season across the city’s entire theatre scene. This was my first opportunity to see this production live and in person, and I have to say that it matched and exceeded my expectations.
The inspiration for the show is the French Revolution and its long-term fall-out, which culminated in the June Rebellion of 1832 in Paris. To begin, we are taken to France circa 1815 where Jean Valjean (Killian Donnelly), having already served a harsh jail sentence for robbery, continues to steal and is ultimately forced to hide away. We move forward to 1821, where by this point Valjean has become a highly successful businessman under the pseudonym Monsieur Madeleine, and during this time an act of kindness ultimately leads to him having to go on the run again. In the meantime, we meet a group of shady men who treat a variety of women (some of whom work as prostitutes) in a horrendous manner. Once again, Valjean tries to do the right thing by clearing the name of an innocent man, but in doing so, he finds himself arrested again by Inspector Javert (Nic Greenshields).
This time, his sentence is even greater, as he is now sentenced to death. His response is to fake his own demise, and the police do believe that he has in fact died. This gives Valjean the opportunity to escape, and he soon befriends a growing number of males and females within the region who are receiving mistreatment on numerous levels or who are simply struggling in this broken society. He slowly builds an army, known as the Thenardiers, but in their attempts to fend off injustice, they soon make enemies of a local group of students, who sit on the side of the law. This ultimately leads to the Rebellion and its consequences are both massive and tragic, though there are lighter moments to also be found as the conflict gathers pace.
As with the best shows, while the plot lies in fiction, its layers are so true-to-life that it is utterly believable, and it is easy to assume that these events actually happened. This also brings out the most emotion from the audience, who are moved to tears on more than one occasion due to the heart-wrenching plight of certain key players. Perhaps more than this, though, the strength of Les Misérables lies in the performers themselves, whose acting and singing skills are of the absolute highest calibre. In particular, Killian Donnelly does a sensational job as Jean Valjean, while Nic Greenshields is also excellent in the role of Javert. The cast is so large and encompassing that it would be impossible to name-check everybody, but needless to say that all involved are worthy of their positions and deliver performances that may just define their stage careers.
Then, you have the musical backdrop, with some tunes such as I Dreamed A Dream standing out simply because of familiarity; however, as this is an opera where the entire show is performed in song, it is not the music or even the songs themselves that make an impact, but the sheer power of the vocal ranges offered by those in front of us. On numerous occasions, a standing ovation was the only possible response to their phenomenal renditions, reaching octave levels that are almost impossible, and to do so without hesitation or struggle is quite an achievement. The tale itself obviously has historical note, which elevates the authenticity of the plot, but it is also one that has several layers and intertwining angles which keeps things interesting, and this also allows the tone to shift from real sadness to light-hearted humour at a moment’s notice. The costumes are as realistic as you could get, as are special effects such as gun-fire. And I can’t forget to mention the first-class settings, which bring to life the French backdrops of the 1800s, and also the screen images which work superbly at various points, with one death in particular (which I won’t spoil here) being presented as well as you would see in any big-budget movie.
I must mention that it is a very long show, coming in at three hours with only a 15-minute interval. But it is well worth it, because you feel like you are watching something truly special. If you were to attend 100 shows in a year, this is one that would stick in your mind. And that partly explains why this production has been so successful, having been a staple of the theatre scene for decades now, and its performances will continue on for as long as the art of theatre exists, both in this country and around the world. It does help to be a fan of opera no doubt, and there are instances where actually trying to explain the plot down to its finer details can be tricky, but this is more than off-set by the way in which these actors and actresses capture your attention from beginning to end.
Les Misérables is one of those shows that you simply have to see at some point in your life as a theatre aficionado; it’s a production that requires a bucket list tick, and it delivers massively. It is essentially an event, almost a moment in time for any venue hosting it. I felt like I was witnessing something of the highest industry standard, and I hope you get the same experience when you go along to see it during its current tour in Liverpool. Truly unmissable.
Target Audience: Adults Aged 35-60
Content: 2/5 – Infrequent Moderate Language, Moderate Violence, Infrequent Moderate Sex References
Overall Rating: 10/10 – Perfect
Les Misérables runs at the Empire Theatre until Saturday October 26. To buy tickets, click here or call 0844 871 3017.