Show: Les Misérables
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool
Date: Friday 7 January 2022
Running Time: 180 Minutes (incl. interval)
Age Rating: 12+
Performers: Dean Chisnall, Nic Greenshields, Katie Hall, Skye Kashikula, Helen Walsh, Ian Hughes, Teddy Probets, Jenna Innes, Rebecca Ferrin, Will Callan
Director: Jo Parsons
Producer: Cameron Mackintosh
Writers: Alain Boublil & Claude-Michel Schönberg
Orchestral Director: Ben Ferguson
Lyricist: Herbert Kretzmer
Strong and beautiful – in every sense of the words – Les Misérables flooded Liverpool‘s Empire Theatre with awe. Let me begin by saying that this performance was my first experience of Les Mis, so this review is an honest, fresh-eyed perspective on the classic tale and long-adored musical.
(If you know the story well, you might want to skip to the analysis section.)
This classic French tale begins with the introduction of Jean Valjean, nineteen years a slave and about to leave the chain gang, only to find his ticket to freedom is not a ticket to freedom at all. He was found guilty of thievery, having stolen some bread to save his sister’s starving child, but is condemned to an outcast. One man, the Bishop of Digne, pitties him and welcomes him to share in his wealth for the night, but Valjean is too tempted by the fortune before him and steals some silver and flees before morning. Valjean is caught by the authorities and taken back to the bishop to be shamed, but the Bishop shows grace to him once again and lies to save his life. This kindness of a stranger touches Valjean and he decides to use the bishop’s gifts to start a new life with fresh meaning.
Fast-forward eight years, Valjean goes by the name Monsieur Madeleine and is now a mayor and factory owner. We meet Fantine, a factory worker who does what she can to provide for her young, illegitimate daughter who lives with an innkeeper’s family. Fantine is kicked out onto the streets and resorts to selling her locket, her hair, and then herself joining a group of other prostitutes. She refuses to sleep with one man and suffers a beating for her defiance.
About to be taken to prison by inspector Javert, Valjean appears at the scene and demands her to be taken to the hospital. Later he saves a man who has been run over by a cart and his surprising strength reminds Javert of the convict 24601 Jean Valjean, only he believes he has just been caught. Hearing this, Valjean’s conscience cannot allow an innocent man to take his place in prison, so he reveals his identity.
In hospital, Fantine is growing weaker and Valjean promises that he will find and take care of her daughter, Cosette, before escaping from Javert once again. Cosette is living with the Thenardiers and is abused while watching the fine treatment of their own daughter, Eponine. Valjean pays the Thernardiers to take Cosette with him to Paris.
A further nine years on and the city is in array as General Lamarque, the only leader to have any heart for the poor, is under threat. The Thernardiers are now on the street and their daughter Eponine is in love with student Marius. Meanwhile, Marius bumps into Cosette and falls in love at first sight. Eponine helps Marius find Cosette, even though it causes her heartbreak. The news of General Lamarque’s death reaches Marius and his group of politically-minded students and they decide to fight in support of a revolution. Marius sends Eponine away with a letter for Cosette which reaches Valjean.
Eponine returns to Marius and dies at the barricade. Valjean hears Marius’s name at the barricade and, in realising this is Cosette’s love, prays for his safety. Valjean comes face to face with Javert but this time with the chance to kill him, but he lets Javert go. The rebels are killed at the barricade and Vajean carries injured Marius to the hospital, meeting Javert once again along the way and pleading for him to allow the boy to be carried to safety. Javert allows it and, confused by his principals and Valjean’s mercy towards him, he takes his own life.
Marius is with Cosette where he is cared for. Valjean feels he must run away as his true identity is on the brink of being revealed. He confides in Marius and begs him to stay quiet to Cosette so she does not find out of his rough beginning in life. At Cosette and Marius’ wedding, the Thernardiers attempt to blackmail Marius, calling Valjean a murderer and producing Marius’ ring that, unbeknownst to Thernardier, was stolen from his hand on the night the barricade fell. Marius realises that Valjean saved him and he and Cosette rush to him. Cosette discovers her father’s past from him before he passes away beside them.
Les Misérables portrays the worst and the best of humanity. Its a story of love and loss, yes, but its more complex than that. It shows life as a jigsaw, with each piece a moment in time that forms the bigger picture that is, essentially, a story of love and loss, but made up of intricate fragments of struggle and sacrifice and fight and grace. You would have to be living under a rock not to know how popular Les Misérables was and still is, but admittedly I am the type of person who is immediately uninterested in joining in with fandom frenzy if the majority are obsessed. But, having now seen Les Misérables, I can say I am quite happy to join in.
This musical, if you didn’t already know, is performed almost entirely through song. I think this is a factor to its charm. From the opening number ‘Look Down’ I was sucked into their world and from that moment I was hanging onto their every word, not wanting to miss a syllable. I am so certain that I have never heard such perfect vocals from an entire production until now. To say each performer was talented is a laughable understatement. Discussing just a few would seem unfair to the whole cast but I must must must express my awe of Dean Chisnall (Jean Valjean), I mean wow.
The emotion expressed through his voice felt so real, in an instant I loved him. Valjean has to be the sweetest and strongest character in theatre. It wasn’t until the end of the show that I realised my jaw had been dropped. So, I guess that describing Chisnall and the rest of the cast as jaw-dropping would be exactly accurate. Katie Hall’s performance of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ was delicate and truly demonstrated how fragility and power can exists simultaneously. She created something beautiful again alongside Chisnall with ‘Come To Me’.
Nic Greenshield (Javert)’s solo ‘Stars’ was phenomenal; the audience could not wait to applaud it. Helen Walsh and Ian Hughes brought the laughter from their funny, subtle mannerisms to their bold and cheeky charm as the Thernardiers. ‘Master of the House’ was a hit! Their brilliant nuggets of humour really balanced out the emotion, allowing you to take a minute to break away from the intensity of the story. These two are special. But then again so are they all. Jenna Innes (Eponine) is a heart-breaking character and she portrayed the pain of unrequited love exquisitely. Her performance of ‘On My Own’ was so stunningly vulnerable that it was almost too realistic, extending beyond performance.
Liverpool’s own Will Callan did the city more than proud in his role of the love-stricken and resolute Marius. His vocal was gorgeous – perfect for such a loveable character. Little Cosette played beautifully by Skye Kashikula brought tears to be eyes – such a cutie, but moreso such a talented young actress surely destined for a bright future. The last, but by no means least, character that I must mention is Gavroche (the eleven-year-old Teddy Probets). This young actor is a star. I have never seen a child perform with such professionalism and punch!
One of my favourite moments of the show was when Jean Valjean sings a prayer for Marius with ‘Bring Him Home’. It was so sweet and pure – I will remember this one for the longest. The orchestration is exquisite! The way the soundtrack transitions between conversation pieces to individual thoughts and prayers is clever and keeps you close to each character. The group numbers were powerful and somehow the solo pieces managed to match their power.
There is a definite theme of strength throughout this musical in its story and overall production. The set is fantastic. There is nothing to fault. It was like an old-style children’s pop-up book that brought the story to life. Again, this tops any theatre set I have seen before, with stylistic movement and beautiful lighting throughout. The costumes look authentic and only add to this stunning musical creation.
Not a single breath of feeling was held in at Les Misérables at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre. I feel genuinely privileged to have witnessed such an inspiring theatrical production. Seeing Les Misérables is not a evening out, it is an exquisite experience. Simply put… if you can go, you must.
Target Audience: Ages 16+
Content: Ocassional language, sexual themes, suggested abuse
Overall Rating: 10/10
Les Misérables Further Links
Les Misérables runs at the Empire Theatre until Saturday 22 January 2022. To purchase tickets, click here!
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