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Winner of over 100 international awards and seen by over 65 million people worldwide, Les Misérables is an epic and uplifting story about the survival of the human spirit. Now adapted for high school performers, Les Misérables School Edition features one of the most memorable scores of all time and some of the most memorable characters to ever grace the stage.
In 19th century France, Jean Valjean is released from years of unjust imprisonment, but finds nothing in store for him but mistrust and mistreatment. He breaks his parole in hopes of starting a new life, initiating a life-long struggle for redemption as he is relentlessly pursued by police inspector Javert, who refuses to believe Valjean can change his ways. Finally, during the Paris student uprising of 1832, Javert must confront his ideals after Valjean spares his life and saves that of the student revolutionary who has captured the heart of Valjean's adopted daughter.
Epic, grand and uplifting, Les Misérables School Edition packs an emotional wallop that has thrilled audiences all over the world.
Les Miserables (School Edition) – Stage One Youth Theatre
Date – 16th February 2024
Director – Paul Clements
Musical Director – Kim Seagrove
Choreographer – Helen Wallis
Venue – Titchfield Festival Theatre
Type of production – Musical
Wow! To sum up this show in just one word would be very difficult, but only because there are so many superlatives that I could have chosen. STUPENDOUS (capital letters intended) is the one I eventually settled on. Top class professionalism shone through every aspect of this production, not just the superb performances given by every member of the cast, but the lighting, sound, costumes, set and the programme were all top-notch. Even the brand-new Arden Theatre was a delight.
The ‘School Edition’ of Les Miserables is a trimmed version of Boublil and Schonberg’s original hit show – the changes are so subtle that I was hard pushed to detect them (and I’ve seen the show 14 times). It retains most of the harsh realities of life in 1830s’ Paris that Victor Hugo wanted to highlight and, of course, the beautiful music and lyrics of original show.
Paul Clements has been directing Stage One to ever greater heights for a while now and his sure touch shone through. Every scene was a delight to watch and each person on stage had been encouraged to give their best. Their dedication and total involvement were obvious as was that of the huge team of people behind the scenes that brought this production to the stage.
Mastering the sung-through score must have been a huge mountain to climb and great credit must go to MD Kim Seagrove who has brought the cast to such a peak of perfection in their singing. Helen Wallis’s choreography filled every inch of the stage, was performed precisely, and produced some wonderful images. The action was complimented by Chris and Ian Pratt’s well thought-out and dazzling lighting. Especially impressive were the flashes coordinated with the rifle shots in the battle scenes. Sound too (Anthony Hutchings) was West End quality, crystal clear with every word heard despite the exuberant and beautifully brassy sound the band were making, hidden away beneath the stage. The set was sensibly kept simple with monochrome back projections and flats at each side. The barricade was most impressive (what a luxury to have a revolve!) and props were all of great quality. Costumes too must have been a huge undertaking, but Rachel Grech, Carla Butcher and Karen Tyler ensured that everyone took to the stage looking just right.
And now to the cast. Singing throughout was of the finest quality – strong and strident or gentle and melodic to fit the mood. Heidi Butcher immediately gained our sympathy with her sensitive portrayal of Fantine. Robbie Joiner was the perfect Jean Valjean, tough yet kind and sympathetic. His touching rendition of “Bring Him Home”, so pure and clear, will stay with me for a long time. Finlay Harkness impressed me immensely with his strong portrayal of Javert and powerful singing of “Stars”. The effect of him falling from the bridge was amazing too. Jack Edwards and Caitlin Biddlecombe were perfect as the Thenardiers – their cunning and wheedling ways were spot on, aided by great comic timing. Ella Burgos hit the mark precisely as the lovelorn Eponine (Evie Payne-Simmons too as her younger self) – “On My Own” was heart breaking. Lucy Mengham was equally good as Cosette and as her younger self, Laila Berry’s singing of “Castle on a Cloud” was spell binding. Casper Horn’s portrayal of Marius was a real tour de force – what a beautiful bass voice he has! Paul Jaques is another fine singer and he sparkled as the Enjorlas, leader of the students. Please don’t be offended if I haven’t mentioned you by name, everyone on stage excelled, with many people having several roles. Wherever I looked there were people fully in character, acting and singing their hearts out. Oh, how could I forget? Jasper Croser-Neely gave a standout performance as the cheeky and nimble Gavroche, winning everyone’s hearts.
This was such an accomplished performance I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t in the West End and that no one on stage was more than eighteen years old. Stage One you should be so proud of everything you have achieved with this show – all your hard work has paid off and I’m sure you will all treasure the memory of this experience for many years to come. I don’t think anyone who saw it will forget it either.
NODA SE District 10 Representative
Review: Les Misérables –
Titchfield Festival Theatre –
Stage One Youth Theatre
15 February 2024
Review: David Cradduck
What a lucky chap I am: I not only get to see loads of wonderful shows, in a variety of venues from village halls to 2,500 seaters, professional or otherwise, but occasionally I’m invited to new venues (to me) and to see talented young people making an indelible new stamp on performing.
One such production is Les Misérables at Titchfield Festival Theatre by Stage One Youth Theatre, a Portsmouth based group. Originally spawned from Solent Theatre Company, this talented and enthusiastic theatre company has gone from strength to strength, it appears, with an ever-growing pool of talent and a long list of well known previous productions including Legally Blonde, Grease, Cats and Oliver!.
I can safely say that their latest production, the School Edition of Les Misérables, is one of the best, most complex, non-professional shows I have ever seen, and the fact that it is a youth production (though you wouldn’t really know it) makes the wow factor even greater.
The School Edition is an abridged and somewhat sanitised version of the original musical version by Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s 1985 stage show, produced by Cameron Mackintosh with The Royal Shakespeare Company. But neither is it short (it could really do with starting at 7pm) nor has any of the grit, social injustice and poverty of early 19th century France been glossed over in an effort to make it suitable and relevant for a youth production.
It is a clever adaptation that dramatises the sort of events that Victor Hugo, whose novel it is based upon, witnessed first-hand in France at a time when child abuse and exploitation were as rife as the political unrest that followed, culminating in the 1832 Paris Uprising.
Steve Clark, chair of Stage One, told me – with some justifiable pride – that there were no fewer than 49 children and young people performing on stage at the opening performance last night, plus an army of friends, parents, helpers and volunteers behind the scenes. The logistics of putting on a show on this scale are staggering (and not cheap).
The show revolves around main protagonist ex-convict Jean Valjean, whose only original crime was to steal bread for his starving family. It follows his story, the relationship he has with his nemesis ex-jailer Javert, breaking his parole but only to do good in the world, against the backdrop of what was going on in France at the time, in much the same way as Dickens exposed the awful conditions that the poor suffered in England in a similar time frame. Valjean’s story is a metaphor of sorts and the back stories and plot follow a parallel course: death, injustice, poverty, child exploitation, crime, greed and suffering do not make for happy endings but love and justice win over in the end.
It is difficult to pick out individual performers from this exceptional cast, as they are all of a staggeringly high calibre and all deserve applause. Robbie Joiner, as Valjean, has the meatiest role for sure and gives his all throughout. There are no less than 14 other principals, including Casper Horn as young student Marius and his love interest Cosette played by Lucy Menghan; the larger-than-life Finlay Harkness as authoritarian Javert is imposing and highly plausible;
Caitlin Biddlecombe as the highly unlikeable innkeeper’s crooked wife Madame Thénardier puts in one half of a formidable and entertaining double act, matched by Jack Edwards as her equally detestable other half. The sorry plight of unmarried mother Fantine is superbly enacted by Heidi Butcher in the first half of the show (she has no fewer than three realistic wigs in quick succession as Fantine’s lovely locks are cruelly cut and then grow back over time).
Special mention for Jasper Croser-Neely whose somewhat Artful Dodger-esque performance as young, streetwise, lovable and cheeky rogue Gavroche is deserving of the applause he received. Likewise, Ella Burgos as Éponine delivers a beautifully understated performance. Her singing voice, as with all the others, is clear, obviously trained and a joy to listen to
And so it goes on… as the narrative takes place over a long time frame, there are younger versions of certain characters, like the talented Laila Berry as young Cosette and Evie Payne-Simmons as young Éponine. Forgive me if I have not mentioned everyone – simply everyone from the leads to the ensemble and supporting roles plays a crucial part in the show. It is interesting to note that many of the young performers are studying musical theatre or similar at Chichester College; it comes as no surprise to learn that Paul Clements, the director teaches musical theatre at many colleges and universities, including Chichester. A brief resumé of the cast biographies reveal that most of them are musically talented or have backgrounds in the performing arts.
Likewise the production staff have enormous experience between them – joining director Paul Clements are Kim Seagrove as Musical Director and Helen Wallis as Choreographer; ‘Les Mis’ is very much a musical, but it is difficult music, providing as it does the constant narrative and dialogue throughout. Singing and moving to these sometimes-impossible numbers with more words crammed into a note or line than is comfortable, embracing complex harmonies, cross-singing, and demanding a somewhat loud (almost ‘shouty’) style of delivery for dramatic effect, I would imagine makes for long music and movement rehearsals. Costume Designer and wardrobe mistress Rachel Grech’s must have had some sleepless nights procuring and making over 350 costumes with the help of her seamstress mum Linda Bugg.
Combine all this with the set – boasting a revolving stage and gigantic video wall with clever backdrop images drawn in pencil overlaid with constant, subtle, animated, smoke effect, the necessary but not over-used stage smoke, an orchestra that is loud, clear and just there, the other important element is lighting. The lighting must have taken hours and hours to rig and plot. Moving LEDs and spots swivel and flood both stage and audience on occasions.
Fierce gun battles come alive with a combination of flashes from spotlights, red floods and explosions to supplement the musical score; follow spots never fail to follow; the stage marks, if there any, are imperceptible as lights instantly pick out performers and objects with dramatic effect; backlighting plays as important a part as the rest, rather like the miners approaching the audience in the opening sequence of Billy Elliot; tricky manoeuvres on stage are cleverly masked by lighting and darkness. An absolute masterpiece in staging, making this production one of the most polished and professional shows I have seen on a youth stage.
Review – Les Miserables (School Edition) – Titchfield Festival Theatre
15th February 2024
Stage One Youth Theatre
Director – Paul Clements
Musical Director – Kim Seagrove
Choreographer – Helen Wallis
How many times have you seen the worldwide musical phenomenon that is Les Miserables, performed on the amateur stage? If you’re like me, someone who’s all-time favourite musical is this particular masterpiece by Boubil & Schonberg, you’re likely to have gone your entire life only ever having seen it performed professionally in the west-end or on tour.
For this exact reason, I was apprehensive to review this show tonight. My all-time favourite musical, performed by an amateur youth group – to be perfectly blunt, there was proportionate reason to believe this could be a recipe for disaster.
It therefore gives me great pleasure to tell you up front that what I, along with the rest of the packed-out auditorium of the Arden at Titchfield Festival Theatre, witnessed tonight was exceptionally rare. Not only did this production surpass my expectations, it completely annihilated other versions I’ve seen of this show including on Broadway and on UK tour. Somehow, a group of under 18’s (in what I can only describe as a bunch of superhumans) delivered performances that were well beyond their years, in a production that was executed so perfectly that I couldn’t quite believe what I was watching.
The performances across this show were truly outstanding. Heidi Butcher gave a heartbreaking and powerhouse performance as Fantine; the subtle touches in her facial acting during ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ providing the context of the pain and anguish this young woman has come to live within so beautifully. Caitlin Biddlecombe and Jack Edwards were absolutely fantastic as the only comic relief the show provides; the penny-pinching troublemaking duo Madame & Monsieur Thernadier. Their excellent comedy timing and completely outlandish caricatures were a breath of fresh air, and a joy to watch.
Finlay Harkness gave the performance of a lifetime as Javert – commanding presence whenever he entered the stage, and captivating the audience with every single lyric he sang. Here was a shining example of the standard of this entire cast – a young man who not only performed an extremely challenging role with the highest degree of conviction; but also with a level of maturity far beyond his years. To say I had chills during the suicide scene in the second act, would be an understatement. It would be my recommendation that someone presents Russell Crowe’s agent with a copy of this performance, in order to show him how the film should have been done!
Other highlights include Casper Horn’s acting masterclass during his phenomenal rendition of ‘Empty Chairs At Empty Tables’, the beautifully performed trio in ‘A Heart Full Of Love’ between Casper Horn, Lucy Mengham and Ella Burgos – the latter of which giving a truly sublime performance in ‘On My Own’, as well as Jasper Croser-Neely who oozes with charm and confidence, and is absolutely perfect as the street-wise rascal, Gavroche.
However, whilst being a show that relies heavily on an ensemble cast, there is one particular role who’s shoulders really do bear the weight of this show. You can have the best ensemble cast in Les Mis, but if your Jean Valjean isn’t up to scratch, it significantly takes away from the rest of the piece. Do you therefore call it luck or good fortune that Robbie Joiner was available to take the helm as the aforementioned former convict, 24601? There are not enough words in the English language that I can use to heap the praise deserved on this exceptionally talented young man for the level of performance I saw from him tonight.
Right from the opening number through the entire gruelling run of the show, we had the privilege of watching this truly gifted performer take us on a journey through Valjean’s life on the run from the law. As he navigates his way from one near fatal mistake to another, learning the true meaning of atonement and redemption as he goes, Robbie not only delivered the character’s anguish and turmoil beautifully; but his vocal range was extraordinary. Something tells me that a very bright future awaits this young man, and I for one feel extremely lucky that I got to witness his magnificent performance tonight.
The whole cast were so excellent that I could write about every single one of them. The passion and commitment they each gave within their performances, especially during the big company numbers such as ‘Do You Hear The People Sing’ and ‘One Day More’, was a real testament to each and every one of them as performers. Immense credit must be given to Director Paul Clements, who’s crystal clear vision and a commitment to delivering only the very best shone through from the outset. His use of staging and lighting were incredibly striking. Credit must also be given for his sensitivity in handling some of the more ‘risqué’ material within the show, and how this was handled.
Helen Wallis absolutely took every opportunity to provide some first-class choreography that the whole cast executed brilliantly.
Kim Seagrove had, arguably, the hardest job as Musical Director in taking on a show that is entirely sung the whole way through – but this was a job exceptionally well done. This score is no easy feat, and to have been able to have gotten the sound she achieved on that stage tonight was nothing short of remarkable.
Aside from a few little gripes including some distorted sound issues which I’m sure will be rectified over the course of the run, I will go so far as to say that this was the best show I have ever seen on the so-called amateur stage in over 30 years. In fact, the only thing that’s in any way unprofessional about this show, is the fact that none of the cast are being paid. They should be.