Sunday, November 18, 2012


Chelmsford Young Generation at the Civic Theatre

Every show a sell-out; every show a standing ovation.
No surprise to those who know Young Gen's work, or who saw them man the barricades in 2006.
This new production is every bit the equal of that one – some of the cast lucky enough to be in both. And many of this company are making their final appearance with CYGAMS. Because, though it's easy to forget, this is a youth company, constantly renewing itself.

Ray Jeffery's direction achieves unbelievable professionalism, in a seamless show where music [Bryan Cass in charge] stage management [Dawn Lawton heading the team], costume, sound and light come together in a flawless whole. [The dockside brothel Lovely Ladies just one of many impressive stage pictures.]

And then of course there are the performers. Many of the huge cast are alternating roles, giving them more to learn, but giving more of the youngsters a chance to shine. So Henri de Lausun, for instance, is a student revolutionary some nights, a strongly sung Javert on others. [The boys' voices are commendably mature generally; Tom Tull's Javert is just as spine-tingling in "Stars".]
Most major characters are shared, and it is interesting to see different approaches to these iconic roles. So we enjoy Callum Crisell's dissolute, evil, baby-faced Thenardier, as well as Josh Butcher's priceless gawky, grimacing Master of the House - he is also the kindly Bishop in the Prologue. Two brilliant heroes: Sam Toland's assured, nuanced approach, or Chester Lawrence's more visceral Valjean, emotionally charged especially at the start.
The romantic Marius is shared between two experienced actors: Bart Lambert, passionate and direct, heartbreaking in A Little Fall of Rain, and Luke Higgins, a convincingly cerebral rebel, a touchingly contemplative survivor in the deserted café.

Though this is very much a company show, with the ensembles one of its great strengths, some performances do stand out [though there's not a single weak link in either cast]. Alice Masters makes a vulnerable Fantine, but knows how to sell a show-stopper. Sophie Walker has great presence as the feisty Eponine, one of the most complex characters in the piece. And Kathryn Peacock's Cosette has an attractive vocal style. As the hot-headed leader of the young revolutionaries, Andrew Steel gives an inspiringly impassioned performance, and Gavroche, youngest recruit to the cause, is a cheeky, confident Jackson Buckler, and not only in his spotlight moments.
The trio and quartet towards the end of Act One are both beautifully sung and staged, there's a poignant nobility to the staging of Empty Chairs, and the enormous forces are always thoughtfully deployed. Do You Hear The People Sing is built skilfully, both musically and visually; the conga exit from the Ballroom [the setting effectively suggested by a couple of swags and a lintel] and the whole company entrance for the rousing finale are perfectly timed.

What an achievement! Artistic excellence, full houses, a highlight of the year, I'm sure, for many of the audience, and for these factory girls, nuns, beggars, wedding guests and sewer rats, a memorable milestone in their performing career.


Barbara Gray said...

Stunningly brilliant - I couldn't find anything to criticise in either cast, and I was very lucky to see both. It's my favourite musical ever, so I'm hard to please. At least 6 stars out of 5.

Michael Gray said...

No niggles at all, then ?

Well ...

There was perhaps a little too much smoke at times, and some pretty dodgy wigs, but if that's all one could find to criticise ...

Barbara Gray said...

Well, perhaps the wigs but they were fine if I took my glasses of ...

Barbara Gray said...

And Saturday afternoon's performance was plagued by rustling chocolate boxes. How could anyone rustle through Empty Chairs! But obviously not the fault of the production.

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