STAGE REVIEW: Les Miserables @ Theatre Royal, Newcastle (20.08.19) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: The Barricade by Helen Maybanks

Les Miserables is at Theatre Royal, Newcastle until Saturday 5th October

It’s more than fair to say that Les Miserables is a cross-cultural phenomenon. A giant of the theatrical landscape with a name that provokes a sense of awe in anyone who’s seen it.

For those few who have managed to avoid either the novel, this long-running musical, or Tom Hooper’s lavish, Oscar-winning film adaptation, Les Mis is an epic piece of storytelling. Initially it’s the tale of Jean Valjean, a man imprisoned for the best part of twenty years for stealing a loaf of bread, as he tries to live apart from the relentless pursuit of obsessive and self-righteous police officer, Javert. This is a work that spans decades though, taking in the cruelty and poverty that befall the innocent Fantine, Valjean’s shot at redemption with the child, Cosette, and her eventual romance with Marius, whose desperate stand at the barricades with his revolutionary friends forms the thrilling bulk of act two.

The thing with Les Mis is there’s not much point in going further into specifics. Most people know the plot and the key songs, and there’s no way that the performances and technical aspects of such a monolithic show are going to be anything less than top class. So it is at the Theatre Royal, but let’s be clear, that is the highest compliment. If I Dreamed A Dream doesn’t make you well up, and Do You Hear The People Sing doesn’t stir your soul, then you should question where you misplaced it.

In truth, there’s no show quite like Les Mis in terms of scope, scale and staging. The streets of revolutionary France, its sewers and taverns, are all brought vividly to life thanks to complex machinations that seemingly appear out of the air and sparingly used, but effective, projections. The characters are what Les Mis does best, and will always hit home. Whether in the zealous, black and white world-view of Javert, the unrequited yearning of Eponine, the irascible youth of Gavroche, or in any of the supporting roles, maximum skill and commitment simply pours from every actor on stage to intoxicating and emotional effect.

But then, that’s the magic of Les Mis.  A true theatrical spectacle for sure, but so much more. It’s an experience that you owe it to yourself to see at least once in your life.

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