LES MISERABLES – School Edition

Date 28th April 2018
Society Ballywillan Drama Group
Venue Riverside Theatre, Coleraine
Director Brian Logan
Musical Director Eric Boyd
Choreographer Sharon Logan


Author: Sheelagh Hobart

Les Miserables is the world’s longest running musical. It has been seen by over 70million people and won over 100 Awards. An adaptation for students under the age of 18 was released in 2002 with running time around 30 minutes less than the
2 hour original. Although no ‘critical’ songs or scenes are cut, several lose the odd verse. Most amateur musical enthusiasts over 18 would give their eye teeth to take part in it!

Ballywillan’s set was made up of a huge wooden structure stage left which was constantly on the move.  It comprised small platforms linked as high steps – about 12 inches apart - which the cast managed amazingly well although awkward to climb or descend when singing! The structure was a little unstable and could have done with additional brakes when static. Stage right had the components for the ‘later to be used’ barricades. This meant that most of the action in the first act took place centre or stage left which was a pity. I would have liked the back of these pieces to have been either well hidden or decorated for use in the earlier action. When it appeared as a barricade, it was a little disappointing – being just boxes and baby cot bars. (I remember the superbly designed ‘dump’ in “Cats”). A nicely made high bar gate appeared for Valjean’s garden but, too often, cast walked round the outside of the gate posts instead of “climbing” the wall or opening the gate! Props were always authentic and Lighting good although occasionally stage crew were so keen to be speedy that they were caught in the light! Using members of the cast might sometimes have worked better. Costumes from Utopia were of the era and hairstyles and wigs mostly good – I thought Fantine’s wig when she had her hair cut off should have looked untidy whereas she looked as if she had been to the hairdresser! The only time there is much colour in costume (apart from red coated students) is the wedding, where Mme Thenardier was outstanding!  Sound was a little thin in the opening scene as “Look down” is just boys /men but the girls arrived in force after Valjean’s soliloquy, to sing “At the end of the Day” (although unusual to feature ladies only). The large chorus divided into various groups - particularly suitable not to use the younger girls for “Lovely Ladies”. All chorus and minor Principals played their part with enthusiasm and good vocals.

Ross McAlister played the leading role of Jean Valjean with gentle authority and gravitas.  He was ably supported by Elena Sheppard as Fantine and Carly Weir as Cosette. Elena showed suitable emotion as she did everything she could to save her daughter, and her early demise was sensitively portrayed. Carly was a delightful Cosette, acting and singing beautifully with Jon-Lee Walker as Marius. Their “Heart Full of Love” with Eponine was particularly expressive. Jon-Lee was assured in his role as Marius and connected well with Carly and with Ross.  “Empty Chairs & Empty Tables” was sung with emotion. Enjorlas was also played well by Seamus Donaghy, leading his fellow students confidently in “Red and Black” and into
“Do You hear the People Sing?” with full chorus (one of my favourite numbers). After an accident the night before, Hannah McAleenon understudied  for Jasmine Gardiner as Eponine, and did full justice to the role after only one morning’s rehearsal. When I complimented her after the show Hannah said “Jasmine did it better”. Maybe she did, I don’t know – but what a lovely friend to say so!  I heard that Jasmine was back in the role of Eponine for the final performance – a real showbiz “show must go on” girl! Ewan Williams and Lucy McDowell were very strong as Thenardier and his wife. A good partnership was formed, with great effort and energy on both sides. Many nuances and facial expressions added to the comedy as did Lucy’s extraordinary wigs and costumes! Poppy Mairs was very sweet as Little Cosette and her “Castle on a Cloud” was lovely. Matthew Kirkpatrick was a lively young Gavroche and sang well. His ‘death’ was convincing and he shows great promise. First time on stage - I hope we see him again.

Eric Boyd’s 12 piece orchestra was situated on a platform stage left and made an impressive sound. Although there appeared to be no monitor at the back of the auditorium for the cast to see, vocals and instruments were in harmony throughout. Apart from the wedding there is no dancing as such, but Sharon moved the large cast around the stage with good purpose, always adding to the interpretation of the plot. Together with director Brian, they kept a good pace going and elicited impressive performances from everyone on stage, from principals to chorus. Lighting, designed also by Brian Logan was super. Always appropriate, it was particularly noticeable at the barricades where spots pinpointed soloists very well and gunfights were spectacular. The young cast will have had an unforgettable experience in this production and I look forward to seeing them again as they progress in the future. My thanks to everyone for a most enjoyable afternoon – including Carlton who looked after us well both before the show and at the interval.