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Les Miserables: School Edition (Susan Elkin reviews)

CAMBRIDGE THEATRE COMPANY

One of the many advantages of staging Les Misérables with a youth group – and using the generous playing space in the theatre at The Leys school – is that you have a huge cast for crowd scenes and a superbly large stage to direct and choregraph them on. And Director Chris Cuming and his assistant Emma Olley, both of whom are skilled choreographers, bring the best out in the cast for every big scene. And of course, the whole show, fizzes with energy and enthusiasm because these are young people having a ball on stage.

It’s a fine choice of show for a group like this too because there are lots of small parts and plenty for everyone to do. Amongst the principals, Jasmine Cairns is outstanding as Fantine, singing with the control, finesse and passion of an experienced professional singer twice her age. She is clearly one to watch. Daniel Lane is excellent as Javert too, He has a deeply resonant bass voice and brings all the angry tenacity that the role needs. Then there are the Thenardiers, expertly played by Joseph Beach who is a fine character actor with oodles of stage presence and Emily Glasser whose singing and timing (“But there’s not much there …” delivered as well as I’ve ever heard it) seem as natural as you know (hope!) that they’re not. And Toby Hadden as Gavroche, always a tricky role to cast, finds the all the loud but diminutive strength which makes it such an entertaining and poignant cameo. I liked Riley Williames’s work as Eponine too.

Sue Pearson’s excellent costumes included lots of grey and beige dresses, with pinafores for the children, and some nice uniforms, It looks very authentic, assisted by the lighting, designed by John Moore and Martha Gregg with lots of crossed beams, patterns on the floor and plenty of gloom especially in the green-tinged sewers. The twelve piece band, led by MD Graham Brown, sounded tentative – fluffed brass entries, bum notes and the like – in the first half but settled to sound a great deal better after the interval. This is technically difficult and complex music and it didn’t always come together although the reeds in the Thenardiers’ big number did a lovely job.

I know that lighting designers love stage smoke – dry ice, liquid nitrogen or whatever – because it looks so effective through light but there’s so much of it in this show that it loses impact and begins to feel like a lazy cliché. And I suppose if you have a double revolve to play with then it would be silly not to make use of it. Characters are whizzed round and round so much in this show that I was feeling quite giddy by the end.

These are, however, very minor gripes about a very high standard achievement and I congratulate everyone involved with it – especially the young cast and the young people who worked backstage. I am now eagerly looking forward to CTC’s James and the Giant Peach at Christmas.

First published by Sardines http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-Cambridge%20Theatre%20Company%20-Les%20Mis%C3%A9rables:%20School%20Edition&reviewsID=3018

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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