On Tuesday 2nd of April, my Arts Award group and I went to watch an exclusive dress run performance of arguably the most famous musical of all time: Les Misérables. The acclaimed production by Cameron Mackintosh is currently on tour UK-wide and is on at the Birmingham Hippodrome from the 2nd of April to the 11th of May. We were very lucky to be granted access to the dress run of the show, as the transfer from location to location is shockingly short. The group gathered at 11am of Tuesday morning, slightly sleepy but excited all the same. We journeyed to the Birmingham Hippodrome together, a wonderfully modern and spacious venue. As we were so early, we sat down in the foyer to drink tea and chat before the performance (shout-out to the lovely barista at the coffee bar!). My friends and I excitedly discussed our favourite songs and scenes of Les Mis - all of us being big fans of the show.
For those who don’t know - Les Misérables is a musical, set in early 19th-century France. It tells the story of Jean Valjean, a French peasant, and his redemption after serving nineteen years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread. The musical is based on the French novel of the same name by Victor Hugo which has been adapted into many radio programmes, films, and TV shows with varying degrees of success.
The performance of Les Mis was almost indescribable. Even with my high expectation, based on a love for the film and music, it soared above what I could have imagined. The acting was committed and nuanced - I laughed, cried and was surprised by the perfect balance between originality and traditionality. The singing was impeccable and all parts of the stage were used well to tell the story, like the use of the right side of the stage for the ‘Lovely Ladies’ scene.
I especially enjoyed the clever lighting used throughout the production - I saw how lighting does not have to be big and bright to set the mood in a play. I liked how the lights were shone through pieces of set to create ‘windows’ on the floor. Another aspect I loved was the fluidity and ease with which the show flowed. Set slid into place and this enhanced the continuity of the show. The balcony and different levels, moving doors and bridge changed the stage picture and kept the performance engaging.
However, my favourite original part of the production was the use of projections. On the back wall of the stage, projections were used with perfect subtlety to create atmosphere. An example of this was when the Valjean must move through the sewers and the projections moved down from street level into sewers, and changed angles to show Valjean moving through the sewers. The story would have worked without them, but the projections elevated the performance by completely transporting me to the character's world.
Overall, the performance managed to bring something fresh to the production, without changing the most iconic parts. I loved watching Les Mis, and if you ever get the chance, do not miss it!