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Dated 6th December 2013 

By David Slater, NODA NW

NODA Review - HYT Production of Les Miserables

Les Miserables has a special place in the heart of many a theatre-goer, so much so that it seems redundant to wax lyrical about its place in the story of history of the musical theatre: the plot, the famous tunes, the memorable characters, all are so indelibly burned into the memory of any fan of the stage musical. Full marks to any society wishing to tackle this beast of a show which brings with it such a weight of expectation: even more so to a youth society for taking on this giant undertaking.

The audience were treated to a fabulously sumptuous set at curtain-up: a really impressive achievement. The staging of the show was an out and out success and my compliments go to the technical team for a really excellent looking show A great lighting plot really showed the stage off to its best advantage and added depth and character to the show throughout. From the opening scenes in the prison to the Act Two barricade scenes, the stage looked simply amazing and demonstrated to the audience from the outset that here was a thoughtful and impressive production. A great orchestra under the baton of Helen Clarkson created a rich and note perfect sound all evening - no easy task with this thundering behemoth of a musical score. As befits the audience's high expectations of a show such as this, Todmorden Hippodrome Youth Theatre had clearly pulled out all the stops to deliver something special and the stage was set in readiness for the performers to set in motion this epic tale of right and wrong, drama and melodrama, high emotion and revenge on the grandest scale.

Max Anderson led the way as Jean Valjean, giving a great performance throughout the evening and really taking the audience with him on his life's journey with all its ups and downs. Vocally strong and deeply sympathetic as a character, Max conveyed the light and shade of the character with ease and managed to shine a light on every aspect of Valjean's character. Tom Howard as Valjean's dogged pursuer was particularly strong and brought a real depth to his portrayal, again vocally strong and really carrying the audience with him and creating a sympathetic and well-rounded character. Jessica Clarkson as Fantine was particularly strong, bringing something new, fresh and very much her own to 'that' song - you know the one! - Which was very much appreciated. Jessica is a particularly strong performer and is a great asset to the local amateur stage and it was particularly pleasing to see her bringing a maturity and solidity to the drama. Rosie Crowther's Eponine was pitched just right throughout, as was Madeleine Jefferson as Cosette. Tom Heys brought a real conviction and honesty to the role of Marius and Lewis Rafter was a wild and enthusiastic Enjolras. The Thenardiers were brought to life with an engaging and down to earth twinkle by Paul Robinson and Elizabeth Sutcliffe: Paul in particular overcame the potential obstacles of a wandering accent to create a character the audience really warmed to, despite Thenardier's grubbier characteristics. The smaller but pivotal role of Gavroche was brought to life with particular vim and vigour by Callum Roberts. Here was a great performance; controlled, confident and with a real spark of life which almost set the stage alight: a very impressive performance Callum, well done. Katie Atkinson and Evie Gray did sterling work as the young Eponine and Cosette respectively and the rest of the large ensemble coped magnificently with this mammoth undertaking, never flagging or coasting along, always giving of their best.

All the performers on stage performed admirably with the long sung-through score and if at times one tires of the endless recitatives which seem to go on forever - and now and again, some of the performers' voices seemed to be tiring too, particularly as the show went on, perhaps unsurprising given the length of the show - and aren't particularly tuneful or memorable, the young cast coped well for the most part. In fact, my biggest problem with Boubil and Schonberg's show is that there seems to be an assumption that merely by linking the big tuneful vocal numbers with a string of meandering (and below average) recitatives, it somehow elevates the show into 'more' than a musical and something on the way to out and out opera which makes it 'bigger', 'cleverer' or just 'better'. It really doesn't in my view but then that's simply personal taste and has nothing to do with a consideration of this particular production which was uniformly excellent.

Standout numbers for me were 'Stars' and 'One Day More' but each and every performer on stage brought something special to their vocal numbers and all are to be highly commended.

Act Two really came to life for me, with the barricade scenes really fizzing with life and energy and the poignant final scenes were particularly well handled. This was a sumptuous production with every element coming together on stage to create a special evening: scenery, costumes, lighting, music and performance all combining to make a large and contented audience thoroughly happy. Congratulations to all at the Youth Theatre and long may you continue to produce theatrical work of this quality.

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