Amateur theatre is important. Amateur youth theatre is even more so. It’s the place where young people can learn, grow in confidence, explore their potential, meet other like-minded individuals and create memories they can treasure for life. I’ve benefited so much from dance classes and youth theatre, and it was a joy to watch The B&B Young People’s Theatre Company’s production of Les Mis: School Edition, for that reason.
Les Mis is not the first choice of show for a youth theatre company. It is a difficult show. It’s sung-through, it has mature themes, it’s emotionally and physically exhausting, and some of the singing is technically difficult. I was prepared to see some of these kids crash and burn; but that just wasn’t the case here. The show was incredibly strong, mature, and professional – to sum it up in a very short sentence.
Unlike the West End production, which has a lavish turn table, this production is kept incredibly simple with the orchestra on a platform at the back of the stage, two sets of stairs centre stage, and minimal furnitures (a gate, the barricade, etc) brought on by the excellent stage crew when needed. Two screens at the back of the stage help set the time and place of each scene, and although they are not in the West End, I wonder if these may have been utilised more somehow. The sparse stage works really well, drawing attention to the singing and raw emotion of the show, and allowing more room for the large company numbers, choreographed by Charlotte Wood (her fourth show for the company) – I particularly enjoyed ‘At the End of the Day’ and ‘Lovely Ladies’.
There was the unexpected use of another balcony above the stage for the Thenardiers in ‘One Day More’ and for Javert’s Suicide, performed excellently by Alex Day who commanded a real stage presence every time he was on stage. The staging of this worked really well with the pool of blue light clearly showing him plunging to his demise.
This show is completely sung-through and so relies heavily on strong voices, and it is clear both musical director Frankie Ayers and director Mim Coleman have worked with the cast to not only improve their voices, but help them really show the thought that their character has with every lyric. Jamie Coleman as Jean Valjean did incredibly well with this; his version of ‘Bring Him Home’ was strong. Lauren Benjamin’s Fantine had a powerful voice, delivering a lovely ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, though I can’t help but wonder if her belting voice may have suited Eponine more…There was the awkward crossed-hands to signify her death which I felt was unnecessary, but that’s just my humble opinion.
The hope of light in this emotional and heartbreaking show is Marius and Cosette, and both Noah Keeler and Abbie Jackson portrayed the young lovers with utmost maturity. Keeler’s interaction with friend Eponine (Amy Mullen-Brown) in ‘A Little Fall of Rain’, brought a tear to my eye, sealed with the tender kiss he placed upon her forehead as she slipped into her final slumber. Jackson’s Cosette was vocally beautiful, hitting every note with ease, and harmonising perfectly with Keeler. With a stage presence which draws your eyes to her, I am sure we’ll be seeing her gracing our West End stages in the future.
Every costume was well put-together and representative of a professional production, the orchestra are under-credited and truly phenomenal, as were the technical team who created the most beautiful lighting. The show ran really smoothly, though I felt the use of the pyrotechnic gunshots were random at times. Having just the one for Gavroche’s (Finn Alderman) death would have been more effective. Every single member of the chorus were well-rehearsed, and I wanted to jump up and “join in their crusade” when ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’, lead by George Butler’s Enjorlas, was sung. The Thenardiers (Joshua Parks and Jamie Coleman) added comedy to the show, with both Parks and Coleman being character actors in the making.
This show was a joy to watch and brought a tear to my eye. Yes, there were moments when backstage talking was heard and there was some upstaging, but it is clear how much hard work has gone into this production and the sheer fun the team have had working on it. A well-deserved standing ovation was given (as there was every night), and I only wish it could play for longer.
(note: I saw the ‘black team’ perform, meaning that the principal roles are played by other performers on different nights)