|Photo: Barrie White-Miller|
Les Misérables - School Edition
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Saturday 17th November 2012
Six years on from Young Gen's first production of this truncated edition of the longest running musical in the West End and most of their original cast have grown up and moved on, leaving a fresh generation to tackle the emotional storylines and familiar musical numbers on offer in this ever-popular show. With six sold out performances there must have been many audience members new to CYGAMS' work, and they were not disappointed, giving an enthusiastic standing ovation at every show.
An unusual dual casting arrangement allowed for more performers to tackle the lead roles, and despite therefore learning two parts and performing them alternately, at the Saturday evening performance that I attended not a foot was put wrong. Sam Toland's Jean Valjean was mature and confident, with his performance of the notoriously difficult "Bring Him Home" an utter triumph of his skill and dedication. His style is always controlled and effortless, but this epic role saw his acting technique rise to match his singing as he became entirely absorbed in this complex character. Not alone in giving his best performance to date, Bart Lambert's emotionally charged "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" also had audience members reaching for their tissues. His sincere and heartfelt performance of the young scholar Marius achieved every moment of sensitivity in an excellent interpretation. Henri de Lausun was masterful as the relentless Javert. Strong and determined his characterisation was controlled and purposely expressionless which fitted the role wonderfully. His solo of the beautiful "Stars" was sung with skill and his suicide excellently staged with authenticity and care. Alice Masters was also superb as Fantine, beautiful and suitably meek she sang "I Dreamed a Dream" with intelligent characterisation, never allowing the now iconic popularisation of the song to detract from it's proper place as a key part of this character's story. Sophie Walker had a difficult job playing a hugely popular role, but surpassed expectations with a fantastic portrayal of the tomboy-ish Eponine. Loyal, honest but achingly rejected, her performance of "On My Own" followed by "Another Fall of Rain" were affectingly sung and performed with complete understanding and maturity. Emma Bennett brought a sweet innocence to the role of Cosette, singing a difficult song with ease. She was graceful and elegant, believably the subject of affection for both Valjean and Marius. The Thénardiers were ideally pitched villains, with plenty of comic edge to provide the relief in a heavy plot, but also a believably illicit and cruel characterisation by Callum Crisell and Jessica Moore. Enjolras, the leader of the student's revolution, was played as an enlivened luminary, performed with enthusiasm by Ollie Fox. The youngest member of the named company, Jackson Buckler as little Gavroche, proves that when this inspiring older generation of consummate performers move on to their adult lives, a new layer of talent is ready and waiting to build upon the high standard for which Young Gen have become known. Every member of the remaining ensemble supported each scene with slick reliability, ensuring that the rich theatricality was consistently maintained throughout.
The Production team did not let these fine young performers down. Each character's costumes, make-up and wigs were, without exception, perfectly styled, and despite a couple of very fast changes of full costume the action of the piece never once stilted. Stage management was extremely well organised, with some large set pieces moving around the stage seamlessly. The lighting design, using red, white and blue almost solely throughout, retained a beautifully styled consistency achieving some ideally framed solos, which even made an otherwise bare stage seem richly expressive. Sound levels were well achieved, with even the quietest voice being heard over the excellent band, with musical direction by Bryan Cass.
A previous attendee of CYGAMS' productions, I am used to witnessing great things and am expectant of the high performance levels that Ray Jefferies manages to achieve from all of the young people under his direction. However in this production, the swan song for many older members as they reach their 18th birthdays, every single cast member performed with more passion, skill and professionalism than I have ever seen them accomplish. A production that will go down in Young Gen history - an outstanding success in every possible way. It will stay with all those audience members who were lucky enough to witness it for some time to come, but even longer for the tearful young performers who sobbed their way through their final ever Young Gen curtain call. Best of luck for whatever your futures hold, you bunch of super stars.