Wednesday, 16 December 2015

"Les Miserables"
Bilborough College

The title of the musical may translate as The Miserable Ones but this production will leave you far from feeling miserable.

There's no scenery, which for some versions of the musical may seem a no-no but I didn't even notice that once it started. What there is though is a clever barricade on wheels which, simple as it sounds , was very clever and effective for many reasons.

Some may also not have that high expectations of the piece as it, and I quote from another audience member, "it's only students, so you shouldn't expect too much". I think she was forced to eat her words by the end because the standard of this show is stupendously good, in fact one of the best I've seen at amateur theatre level.

The main character is Jean Valjean who was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread and the opening scenes see him getting his release from Javert, the Chief Of Police, or cop in other words. Throughout the musical their paths cross several times, for those who don't know the story. Valjean is taken in by a priest who he robs from, is caught, but then the priest backs Valjean's story and gives him even more silver to sell.

Set in the 19th Century, Valjean goes on to do better things and becomes a pillar of the community and ends up fighting in the Revolutionary period in France where a group of young idealists make their last stand at a street barricade.

Along the way he saves a young factory worker, Fantine, from prison, who then dies and on her death bed, Valjean promises to bring up her daughter, Cosette, so he "buys" her from the smarmy and nasty Thenardiers. Valjean also turns hero again by setting Javert free from his captors and saving Marius's life. Valjean sees Marius as the son he never had, who also falls in love with Cosette.

This is an incredibly talented young cast headed by Jacob Seelochan as Valjean. Jacob has a voice that is strong, powerful but tender when the song calls for it. He performs every song as a mini piece of drama and wrings every bit of emotion from them. He gets you to feel the pain and hurt the character is going through, especially in songs like "Bring Him Home". i knew as soon as I saw Jacob's name on the cast list that this production would be of a high standard, due to past roles and productions that I have seen him in.

But the rest of the cast were just as good as their leading man. Javert was played brilliantly by Kofi Dennis, again another really good voice and another one who brings out the character of the role he plays, making you believe the character. he did a wonderful version of "Stars" to close act one.

Fantine  was played by Anna Unwin. Wow! what an emotive actor she is. Her character was pushed through the mill and back again and Anna drags that emotion out making you feel drained to watch. The scene where she dies in Valjean's arms of consumption is spell-binding.Her version of "I Dreamed A Dream" was magical.

Cosette was played by Olivia Jones (younger Cosette) and Lizzy Ives. A clever scene when she goes from younger to older which was simple but again really effective. Again top class voices.

Deanna Ward played Eponine, the daughter of the Thenardiers who fell for Marius and helped him get a message to Cosette, but died by doing this. Stunning role.

Peter Cable played the Bishop who forgave Valjean for stealing from him as well as playing Enjolras, the leader of the student revolutionaries. Strong acting abilities and a voice to match.

The Thenardiers are the comic pairing of the musical and they were well cast in Jasper Cook and Emily Horner. Smarmy, sleazy with just a bit of nasty thrown in. After all they sold off Cosette and robbed from the dead. The pair got the characters of the Thenardiers just about right here and I loved their main musical number "Master Of the House".

And finally Gavroche, played by Joey Gaten. Gavroche is the street urchin who knows everyone but ended up being shot on the barricade trying to retrieve ammunition from the fallen soldiers.

Great cast and great production team with Sharon Macinnes as producer and Jacob Seelochan as director. Choreography by Emma Knight and a wonderfully imaginative set design by Joe Clarke. The lighting was by Hannah Cooper and Jonathan Banks and this also added to the feel of the show.

The orchestra, as always at Bilborough College, provided a brilliant sound who didn't drown the actors and quite rightly deserved their round of applause at the end.

Talking of round, this is the first time that I have seen Bilborough Drama do a production "in the round" and this worked really well as the actors drew you into their world. Another inspirational directorial decision.

This has to be the best production I've seen at Bilborough College, but I can remember saying that after last year's show as well.An amazing amount of hard work has gone into this production in a relatively short space of time, but has a sheen and a gloss splashed all over it.

"Les Miserables" is on at Bilborough College up to Thursday 17 December 2015.

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