Happy Audience for Les Miserables

Posted to reviews.media-culture.org.au on Tuesday, 09 August 2005 by Emma Nelms
Reviewed by Georgina Tkacz
St. Ignatians at Sir Fred Schonell Theatre, Brisbane. 14 July-6 August 2005

I have to admit that I was really looking forward to seeing this production for two reasons. 1) The musical adaptation of Hugo’s novel is like my favourite musical ever (which means I had very high expectations) and 2) Friends who saw the show earlier described it as “awesome” – and that there were lots of “hot guys” in it. Being “show people” they know what they are talking about, so I felt confident that Hugo’s tale of faith, courage, love and freedom in revolutionary France would be faithfully reproduced…and that I’d have something to look at in the (very few!) boring singing bits. For the most part, I was not disappointed.

Les Mis is the story of one man (Jean Valjean)’s journey from the bitterness and despair of imprisonment for a petty crime to his eventual inner peace and redemption through incredible acts of selflessness and kindness, and the St Ignatians version of it does not take any liberties with it in this regard. Having only ever seen professional productions of this musical (mostly at QPAC) over the years starring the likes of Rob Guest, Peter Cousens and even David Dixon (does anybody else remember Indecent Obsession?), I was really impressed by the stellar performances of these “amateurs”. Jack Bradford, in particular, rivalled any of Valjean by Guest and Margot Moore pulled off the most sympathetic portrayal of Cosette (who’s usually a bit whiny and pathetic) I have ever seen. Eponine, on the other hand, who ordinarily stands out as the tragic female character, tormented by her selfless yet futile love for Marius, paled by comparison. Adding to the big voices of those already mentioned was that of newcomer Jeff Teale, who was suitably inspiring in the role of the leader of the student rebellion, Enjolras. He is also (arguably) the, ah, hottest guy in the show.

Being an amateur theatre society however, it’s to be expected that all aspects of the St Ignatians production of Les Mis could not possibly live up to those staged by QPAC and other professional performing arts companies. As with all non-government-funded ventures, such productions have to make do with costumes, sets technical support and, in some instances, performers, who are not up to the standards of a professional production. Although these differences were negligible in terms of costume and sets (which were scaled down to accommodate, among other things, the smaller venue), some of the whiz-bang special illusionary (lighting) effects that made the QPAC productions so memorable (Javert’s jump from the bridge and Eponine’s late-nite walk through the sleeping city, for example) are conspicuously absent. The spell of the performance was broken a little by the muffling of (personal) mikes whenever one performer embraced or just touched another. Similarly, it would be rare to see a performer forget a line (as the young Gavroche did) or for concentration on hitting the right notes (as Eponine was guilty of in one song) to suspend the audience’s belief in a character in a professional production. The audience appeared oblivious to these things, however, as the cast received a standing ovation at the end of the performance, a fairly uncommon reaction for an amateur production, particularly after almost three and a half hours on a Sunday evening.

I myself have to admit that the production eventually passed my final test of a good performance – I cried. Yes, I got almost to the end of the second act, before the floodgates broke open and I sat there sobbing shamelessly. You would think I would get over it by now – its not like I don’t know how it ends! Why have I seen it so many times? Why will I continue to see it? Because of that one damn line that just breaks me in half every time “To love another person is to see the face of God” (and I am not even religious!) and all that it implies and contains. While Hugo’s message of “love conquers all” is not exactly original, it is still one that I (and I don’t think I’m alone here) buy into. Oh, and there are some damn catchy songs.

** End of Review