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BWW Review: LES MISERABLES, Bristol Hippodrome

Review: LES MISERABLES, Bristol Hippodrome

Les Misérables keeps on marching on to its own revolutionary drum beat.

Review: LES MISERABLES, Bristol Hippodrome

It's tough to keep a musical juggernaut like Les Misérables going. It's even tougher to keep it feeling fresh, night after night for well over 35 years. Where others have faltered, Les Misérables has kept marching on to its own revolutionary drum beat.

Perhaps the reason it continues to defy the odds lies in the universality of its themes and the richness of its interwoven storylines. Whether you see it primarily as a story of revolution, or personal redemption or as a love story will be different for everyone. Knitted together with one of the most recognisable and rousing scores ever written, it cements its place as surely the defining musical of the last 50 years.

Les Misérables purists will know that this touring production is the version created to celebrate the 25th anniversary back in 2009. Featuring new direction, sets, costumes and orchestrations. For a time, the original 1985 production continued to play in London, but since 2019, the version you see on tour is now the version you see in London.

Some things were lost in the reimagined staging- gone is the creaky revolve and spinning barricades. In comes projections of Victor Hugo's own paintings and a greater sense of connection to original detail from the period. Yet under the co-direction Les Misérables stalwarts James Powell and Laurence Connor, they have retained and in some cases, augmented the magic formula.

Over the years it's been noted that when some productions head out on tour, they appear to give a 'light' version of the original. Scaled-back in almost every department. Thankfully, whenever Les Misérables has toured, it has done so in its full, untainted glory. The result is stunning visuals matched with exceptional audio clarity (a tough ask in the cavernous Bristol Hippodrome).

The formidable task of playing Jean Valjean is taken by the experienced hands of Dean Chisnall and in his hands, a rich portrait of a man caught between guilt and redemption is revealed. Faultless in his vocals, a beautiful silence descends as he offers up a prayer for the sleeping Marius.

For Valjean to work though, he needs an equal, unbending force in police inspector Javert. Nic Greenshields' is that force. His final soliloquy is one of the most raw, powerful versions out there. You feel the anguish build and burst in Javert as the world he has known is lost. When so many have played the role before, it's tough to find your own interpretation but Greenshields' will surely be remembered for many years.

Indeed, the cast is uniformly superb with a notable mix of experience and youth which lends authenticity, in particular to the idealistic students building their revolution for the poor. Will Callan's Marius is believably naive while Samuel Wyn-Morris' rallying cries as Enjorlas are likely to be heard over the Severn bridge in his native Wales.

Rachelle Ann Go has the tricky task of delivering perhaps the most well-known number of the show, terrifyingly early on in "I Dreamed A Dream". Arguably it's this song that reinvigorated Les Misérables and catapulted it back into the public's attention when Susan Boyle sang it. Ann Go finds the haunting sadness in the song, of dreams that cannot be realised. Her voice fills the space with the richness of her tone. Nathania Ong's Éponine is equally haunting as the darkness and desperation in her life is revealed.

Innkeeper Thénardier and his wife Madame Thénardier are tough roles. Often seen as the only moment of comic relief in an otherwise relentlessly serious show, it can feel slightly awkward at times. Ian Hughes certainly brings humour to the role, but there's more than a touch of the Jack Sparrow to his physicality.

It's worth reminding ourselves that this is a show that defies the odds- unwieldy source material, French history, long running time and tragic themes. Pitching the idea today would surely get short shrift. Yet it works. It is undeniably irresistible at times. The final bars leave you with a little ringing in the ears and a tiny revolutionary drum beat in your heart.

Les Misérables until Sat 6 August at The Bristol Hippodrome

Photo Credit: Danny Kaan

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