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Les Miserables

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

To be clear for anyone currently wading their way through Andrew Davies’ bleak as Christmas TV adaptation of Victor Hugo’s epic novel, this is the one with songs. And songs are at the heart of this touring revival of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s stage version, which has become one of the most successful musicals ever since its first UK staging in 1985.

The story focuses on the fall and rise of ex-con Jean Valjean, who was banged up after stealing a loaf of bread before turning his life around to become a factory owning mayor. Out of this comes an emotional expose of everyday poverty and the extremes necessity can provoke as Valjean takes in the orphaned Cosette before ending up at the vanguard of a people’s revolt.

All this goes at a fair old gallop, with few set-pieces allowed to linger among some impressive stage pictures. Matt Kinley’s set design and projected backdrops by 59 Productions lends the comings and goings a fluidity that seems to open up the stage. As Valjean, Killian Donnelly strides through the decades and his struggle with his own identity with blue-eyed gravitas, while one yearns for Bronwen Hanson’s grown-up Cosette to jump astride the barricades and find some self-determination of her own. Defiance is left to poor Eponine, who, as played by Tegan Bannister, sings On My Own with determined gusto before coming a cropper.

If there are portents here of everything from food banks to the latter day Gilets Jaunes movement in France, it is the sheer emotional bombast of the songs in Laurence Connor and James Powell’s touring production that have arguably caused the production’s year long trek around the country to sell out.

On one level, and as Andrew Davies is currently proving on TV, Les Miserables is very much a story for today. Yet, despite the rabble-rousing triumphalism evoked by the massed chorale declaiming Do You Hear The People Sing?, the revolution probably won’t start here. More’s the pity. 

The Herald, January 28th 2019


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