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Review: Les Misérables at Hull New Theatre – A Historic Moment for the City

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Finally, it’s here; the biggest show to hit Hull, possibly ever, Les Misérables!  I joined an excited audience at Hull New Theatre (I was probably the most excited) on Friday evening.  I’ve seen this in the West End and The Staged Concert, and was keen to see how the touring show had been adapted for travelling around the country.  Staff at the theatre told me that 17 lorries had shipped in the sets and I knew this was going to be good.

Briefly, the story follows Jean Valjean, our hero, from chain gang, to Mayor, to saviour of the poor.  All the while pursued by Inspector Javert whose dedication to the upkeep of the law encompasses his life.  Valjean saves Fantine (of “I dreamed a dream” fame) who subsequently dies.  Valjean goes to rescue Fantine’s daughter who is staying with an innkeeper in the woods.  The innkeeper is Thenardier and his wife (who keeps popping up in our story and provides the comic element that is so needed in such an emotional story).  Valjean rescues Cosette from abuse with the Thenardiers and takes her as his daughter.

Nine years pass.  Valjean has managed to avoid Javert and is in town giving alms to the poor when he comes across The Thenardiers  who recognise him.  There’s a scuffle and Javert comes in again and as he is talking to the Thenardiers,  Valjean and Cosette escape, but not before bumping into our young love interest Marius.  He is part of a group of students trying to get better conditions for the poor and are planning an uprising.  The Thenardiers’ daughter, Eponine has been hanging around the students and is in love with Marius, yet when he asks her to find Cosette, she helps him.   Marius and Cosette meet, they are in love. 

Photo Matthew Murphy

Meanwhile, it’s time for the student rebellion and the barricades are built and manned by the vastly outnumbered students.  Eponine is shot and dies in Marius’ arms, not before singing the heart wrenching “A Little Fall of Rain” (it always gets me right in my heart does that song). She’s the first to fall and is quickly followed the next day by the students. The night before they die, Javert had infiltrated and pretended to spy on the troops, he is outed.  Meanwhile Valjean, finding out that his beloved Cosette’s sweetheart is on the barricade, goes to help and ends up dragging Marius out of the way when all hell breaks loose.  

I’m not going further in the story but can tell you that the music in this show is rousing, romantic,  emotional, just wonderful from I Dreamed a Dream, Castle on a Cloud, Do You Hear the People Sing?, One Day More, not forgetting the song which brings every theatre to a hush…Bring Him Home. To the heart-breaking Empty Chairs at Empty Tables which always makes me sob to the foot-tapping Master of the House.  

However, Les Misérables is not all serious, and our comedy is provided by the Thenardiers who keep coming back in the story (and please clap along to the beat when they sing at the wedding to Beggars at the Feast).  This couple are hilarious.  Their lines have us laughing out loud and even though they’re lower than gutter rats, they earn a place in the audience’s heart. They were brilliantly played by Ian Hughes and Helen Walsh.

Our hero Valjean was played by the understudy Will Barratt. Whatever you do, if you get an understudy don’t think you are being done; he was absolutely brilliant. Tough, with empathy, guilt and love, Barratt was a fabulous Valjean. Our baddie, Javert was played by Nic Greenshields and when he sang Stars, it was with such feeling. I have to say Javert’s death scene was brilliantly played out. 

Photo Matthew Murphy

Cosette was played beautifully by Paige Blankson and her love interest Marius by newcomer to the professional stage; Will Callan (I predict we will see plenty of this young man). My favourite female character in the show is Eponine played by Nathania Ong who I loved. I feel she has the best songs, especially On My Own.  Our student leader with the formerly unpronounceable name Enjolras was played by Samuel Wyn-Morris and I am advised the pronunciation is ‘En-jor-as’ – just forget the ‘l’.  Another character to steal our hearts was Gavroche (Noah Walton) who was cheeky, tough and a great street urchin. 

Les Mis is one of the ‘must see in your lifetime’ shows.  Don’t miss your chance to see it at Hull as it is on until 9th July.  It’s absolutely amazing.  It’s 3 hours long with just a 15- minute interval, so please, please, please go to the toilets before it starts. It is a long show and it is packed with action that you don’t want to miss. The sound and acoustics in the auditorium were just perfect.  I have never heard them sound so good as they did on Friday, not just when the full cast were singing, but when the principals sang and harmonised, especially in In My Life between Marius, Eponine, Valjean and Cosette. It was just beautiful and there were so many moments when the hairs on my neck stood up during the singing. It is a roller coaster of emotions and I felt absolutely exhausted with emotion on the drive home.

Les Miserables is running at Hull New Theatre until Saturday 9 July. More information and ticket booking are available at hulltheatres.co.uk.

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