An accidental discovery of the UK tour of Les Misérables being in town leads me to my first trip to Norwich Theatre Royal
“For when I come to any town…”
I’d no intentions of going to the theatre when in Norwich as part of a sojourn in Norfolk but as it coincided with the arrival of the touring production of Les Misérables for its own extended stay at Norwich Theatre Royal, I couldn’t resist another trip to the barricades. A mainstay in British theatrical life – the show is fast approaching its 40th anniversary – it probably ranks as the show I’ve seen most often throughout my own life, if not quite through the lifespan of this blog. From the stage, to film, to concert productions and films thereof, it’s been a reliable source of enduring entertainment.
A large part of that is down to its familiarity. For me, I can’t remember not liking the show, it being one of the first musicals I saw and consequently loved. But whilst occupying that ‘safe’ space for many a theatregoer, it hasn’t remained entirely monolithic, the iconic revolve of its set design having been gradually phased out in both touring and West End productions. That new design – by Matt Kinley – was introduced in the 25th anniversary tour which returned the show to the Barbican where it originally premiered in 1985, and it remains a key aspect of retaining its power to pack out houses.
Co-directed by James Powell and Laurence Connor, this UK tour thus fulfils expectations, in treating Boublil and Schönberg’s magnum opus with due respect but impassioned commitment too. A number of the younger roles have been handed to graduates, and getting to make their professional debuts in a show like this is a great way to blood them. Paige Blankson’s Cosette, Harry Chandler’s Feuilly and more besides all take the opportunity to bring freshness and vocal vigour to these familiar roles – Caleb Lagayan’s Marius also impressing – which indeed suit youthful enthusiasm in their pursuit of love and revolution.
And at the top of the cast, the more experienced hands of Dean Chisnall (Jean Valjean) and Nic Greenshields (Javert) deliver the booming baritone goods as their titanic duel dominates the epic storytelling, while Ian Hughes and Helen Walsh as the Thénardiers offer gruesome comic relief of sorts. 12 years ago, I reckoned that this was a production that could change people’s minds about this stalwart and with three years to go, it might be time to start thinking of a new reinterpretation but in the meantime, there’s much to be enjoyed with this production and something glorious in being in a packed out theatre of people loving it too.