Today I wanted to share with you my review* of the Les Mis UK tour that’s currently showing in Plymouth. (*Read: ramblings, incoherent thoughts, and excited screaming.)
Admittedly, this review may be somewhat biased – I adore everything about Les Mis. This show brought me together with some of my closest friends whom I now can’t imagine living my life without. It introduced me to characters that I saw myself in and deeply empathised with. Les Mis, and its fans, helped me to accept and understand difficult parts of me when I was still discovering who I was as a young teen. I owe this show, the movies (& especially the 2012 one), the fanfiction, the fans, the art, the music, and Victor Hugo so much of my life.
When I heard that Les Mis was coming to Plymouth, and that it’s opening night was on my 23rd birthday, I emotionally combusted. I came rushing to my Dad’s side as he was cooking, a Cheshire cat smile plastered across my face and told him the good news. His response? “That’s the one about miserable lesbians with those barricade boys, right?” Yes, Dad. Yes, it is.
I secured my ticket and then came the six months of waiting until, finally, June 11th came. I practically skipped to the doors of the theatre, over their red carpet, my Les Mis necklace beating against my chest as I went. I got to my seat in the upper circle early and waited. I waited with more anticipation than I had ever had before.
The lights went down, and time seemed to stand still for the next three hours. The curtain rose and I was instantly struck by the simple staging. Touring a show as huge as Les Mis must have its difficulties, and the challenges were brilliantly solved using a giant screen taking up the entire backdrop of the set. Most of the show’s details were shown using this screen, leaving little except the props and a handful of set pieces on the stage itself.
My favourite piece of staging was during Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. The ghosts of Marius’ friends all stand behind him, holding candles, and one by one, they blow out their candles and disappear. It’s a phenomenal and thought-provoking few minutes that I completely fell in love with.
Okay, I could wax lyrical about every actor in this show, but that would take up way too much of mine and everyone else’s time. Just believe me when I say that every actor was noteworthy and deserves high praises. To save everyone some time I’m going to focus (briefly) on my top three actors in this performance.
First up we have Killian Donnelly in the lead role of Jean Valjean. I felt that his portrayal of Valjean was dynamic and subtle. It was subtle in the way that’s real. As the show got older, and with it, Valjean, Donnelly’s presence on stage became naturally older too.
It felt as though we were growing old with Valjean, that we had truly been on this long journey with him; you can easily forget that Donnelly is only in his mid-thirties in this show. Not only are we treated by a physical journey, we are also given a tangible emotional journey. Donnelly’s performance was raw and vibrant and so alive. Even from my seat in the upper circle I could see his small facial expressions and movements, the tiny details that add depth to his character. Getting minute emotions from the stage to the upper circle without looking like an over-actor is no small feat. It’s the sign of a prodigious performer who loves his work.
Secondly, Katie Hall as Fantine. I swear that whilst watching Hall perform, my goosebumps had goosebumps, especially through I Dreamed a Dream. She portrays Fantine’s downfall beautifully, able to communicate both her ingénueity and steely determination through all the character’s hardships.
Whilst Fantine’s fate is devastating enough as it is, Hall makes it more heartbreaking by highlighting the strength of Fantine’s character; her anger at society, her want to keep her dignity despite everything that’s been thrown her way, the fierce, lioness love she has for her child. It’s truly a magical piece of characterisation and theatre, and all I wanted to do was scoop up Fantine and take her away from her terrible place in the story. Hall squares up to Donnelly’s Valjean during her confrontation of him and manages to easily dwarf Donnelly with her fury, regret, and sorrow. Katie Hall is an absolute powerhouse and I don’t think I’ll ever not be in awe of her.
Lastly, I wanted to talk about Ruben Van Keer in the somewhat minor role of Grantaire. Sometimes I wondered if anyone had told Van Keer that he wasn’t a main character since he played the role with as much energy and emotional depth as Killian Donnelly did with Valjean. Van Keer’s drunken bitterness, bravado, anger and despair was breath-taking to witness. He really came into his own during scenes on the barricade where the emotional payoff was huge. The way he seemed to kick and scream at the barricade itself as Grantaire’s friends fell around him was astonishingly real and pitiful. Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ often came to mind as I watched Van Keer make Grantaire face his fate.
I also adored the way he interacted with Jude Muir as Gavroche. Their background scenes often melted my heart. One notable instance was when Gavroche held Grantaire around the waist to calm him down after he took his emotions out on the barricade. They then fell, exhausted, to the floor, and Gavroche slept in a now calm and measured Grantaire’s lap. A second instance was the aftermath of Gavroche’s death. Van Keer’s Grantaire seemed to ignore the entire world as he carried Gavroche’s body and laid him down as though he were made of the most delicate bone china. As the action continued behind them, I could not take my eyes away from Muir or Van Keer. The show was theirs completely for that time; I mourned and shed a few private tears with Grantaire.
The Les Mis UK tour is honestly one of the most spectacular things I have ever had the pleasure to witness. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially for those who are original staging purists, but this tour staging works just as well as the original. It’s the actors, the performances, the music that truly makes the show as stunning and emotional as the original.
The show is in Plymouth until July 6th. You can find out if the show is coming to a venue near you by clicking here.
Have you seen the show? What did you think of it and which performers blew you away?