Les Miserables (School Edition)

Date 16th February 2024
Society Stage One Youth Theatre Group Hants
Venue Titchfield Festival Theatre, Titchfield
Type of Production Musical
Director Paul Clements
Musical Director Kim Seagrove
Choreographer Helen Wallis

Report

Author: Mark Donalds

Wow! To sum up this show in just one word would be very difficult, but only because there are so many superlatives that I could have chosen. STUPENDOUS (capital letters intended) is the one I eventually settled on. Top class professionalism shone through every aspect of this production, not just the superb performances given by every member of the cast, but the lighting, sound, costumes, set and the programme were all top-notch. Even the brand-new Arden Theatre was a delight.

The ‘School Edition’ of Les Miserables is a trimmed version of Boublil and Schonberg’s original hit show – the changes are so subtle that I was hard pushed to detect them (and I’ve seen the show 14 times). It retains most of the harsh realities of life in 1830s’ Paris that Victor Hugo wanted to highlight and, of course, the beautiful music and lyrics of original show.

Paul Clements has been directing Stage One to ever greater heights for a while now and his sure touch shone through. Every scene was a delight to watch and each person on stage had been encouraged to give their best. Their dedication and total involvement were obvious as was that of the huge team of people behind the scenes that brought this production to the stage.

Mastering the sung-through score must have been a huge mountain to climb and great credit must go to MD Kim Seagrove who has brought the cast to such a peak of perfection in their singing. Helen Wallis’s choreography filled every inch of the stage, was performed precisely, and produced some wonderful images. The action was complimented by Chris and Ian Pratt’s well thought-out and dazzling lighting. Especially impressive were the flashes coordinated with the rifle shots in the battle scenes. Sound too (Anthony Hutchings) was West End quality, crystal clear with every word heard despite the exuberant and beautifully brassy sound the band were making, hidden away beneath the stage. The set was sensibly kept simple with monochrome back projections and flats at each side. The barricade was most impressive (what a luxury to have a revolve!) and props were all of great quality. Costumes too must have been a huge undertaking, but Rachel Grech, Carla Butcher and Karen Tyler ensured that everyone took to the stage looking just right.

And now to the cast. Singing throughout was of the finest quality – strong and strident or gentle and melodic to fit the mood. Heidi Butcher immediately gained our sympathy with her sensitive portrayal of Fantine. Robbie Joiner was the perfect Jean Valjean, tough yet kind and sympathetic. His touching rendition of “Bring Him Home”, so pure and clear, will stay with me for a long time. Finlay Harkness impressed me immensely with his strong portrayal of Javert and powerful singing of “Stars”. The effect of him falling from the bridge was amazing too. Jack Edwards and Caitlin Biddlecombe were perfect as the Thenardiers – their cunning and wheedling ways were spot on, aided by great comic timing. Ella Burgos hit the mark precisely as the lovelorn Eponine (Evie Payne-Simmons too as her younger self) – “On My Own” was heart breaking. Lucy Mengham was equally good as Cosette and as her younger self, Laila Berry’s singing of “Castle on a Cloud” was spell binding. Casper Horn’s portrayal of Marius was a real tour de force – what a beautiful voice he has and such a range! Paul Jaques is another fine singer and he sparkled as the Enjorlas, leader of the students. Please don’t be offended if I haven’t mentioned you by name, everyone on stage excelled, with many people having several roles. Wherever I looked there were people fully in character, acting and singing their hearts out. Oh, how could I forget? Jasper Croser-Neely gave a standout performance as the cheeky and nimble Gavroche, winning everyone’s hearts.

This was such an accomplished performance I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t in the West End and that no one on stage was more than eighteen years old. Stage One you should be so proud of everything you have achieved with this show – all your hard work has paid off and I’m sure you will all treasure the memory of this experience for many years to come. I don’t think anyone who saw it will forget it either.