Tomorrow's Talent at the Civic Theatre
"selfie" from Tamara Thénardier
Taking the barricades by storm, the hundred-strong Tomorrow's Talent company in a memorable Schools' Edition Les Mis.
It's an uncluttered, polished production, directed by Gavin Wilkinson [assisted again by Emma Tapley] with admirable narrative drive and some superb stage pictures, and economical, powerful effects. The runaway cart, for example, is done with a magical combination of light, sound and chorus movement. The lighting [lighting design by Jenny Urquhart] is crucial, since scenery is necessarily minimal – gates, barricades, just one empty table, a bed for Fantine, a chair for the dying Valjean. Often the grouping of the massive forces recalls the revolution artwork of David or Delacroix.
Stage pictures like Enjolras, with his red tablecloth, facing the chorus, or the barricades manned behind the death of Eponine, or the “phantom shadows” of the fallen, match the stirring score in emotional intensity.
The ensemble work is focused and forceful – the chain gang, the lovely ladies, the topers in the Thénardiers' tavern and of course the revolutionaries marching for freedom, defending their barricade to the death.
The company includes many experienced and accomplished young performers. Even the smallest cameos – a drunken diner, Whore 1 in her pink bodice – are scene-stealingly spot-on.
Dreaming the Dream as Fantine are Anna Maria Acevedo, her eyes gleaming with hope before reality and the tigers bring her back to earth, and Lauren Bullock, a feisty Fantine, with superb vocal control.
Like Fantine, most of the parts are double, even triple, cast. Giving the versatile young performers a unique chance to live the show twice, and giving the lucky few a chance to see them tackling very different roles. Dominic Short, for instance, is a hot-headed revolutionary and a vindictive factory worker, as well as a hilariously evil Thénardier, memorably watering the wine …
Tragic Eponine, first to die for the cause, is done by Naomi Ashford – heart-breaking in On My Own – and Matilda Jackson, a credible, complex spoilt brat grown up.
Cosette – a challenging role vocally – is impressively tackled by Isabelle Casey and Alice Talbut. Her younger self – tresses recalling the Bayard illustration – by Scarlett Greaves and Polly Towers.
The street urchin Gavroche – unmasking the traitor and conducting the revolutionary chorus – is shared by Jonah Miller, cute and vulnerable, and Alexander Stuckey, knowing and cocky.
Idealistic young Marius is strongly cast – Jack Martyn with scintillating stage presence and excellent audience rapport, and Jack Harlock, a man of the people, naïve as a revolutionary, gauche as a lover, his voice at its best in an impassioned Empty Chairs.
A trio of Thénardiers, all in their different ways making the most of the coarse comedy and the colourful wedding scene: Mark Ellis and Holly Hosler-White, Chester Lawrence and Amie Whitaker, Dominic Short and Tamara Anderson.
And three superb Valjeans, too. Thomas Tull, who also brings moving gravitas to the Bishop, and opens the batting for the chain gang and for Drink With Me. A deep voice, and a credible ex-con. Mark Ellis, a rich-toned Thénardier, and a thoughtful Jean Valjean, struggling with his demons and his dilemmas, and singing superbly in Bring Him Home. And the outstanding Chester Lawrence, who also does a cheeky innkeeper and a saintly Bishop, is superb in his big numbers and as an elderly Valjean, confessing to Cosette and haunted by visions.
Two principals star in all six shows. Henri de Lausun's forceful Enjolras, great physical presence and an inspirational singer, punching the air with his rifle at the Act One curtain. And Samuel Wolstenholme as a haughty Javert, using stillness and nuanced vocal delivery to bring out the complexities of the character. His “Stars” is superbly shaped, too, though, like all of the performers on stage here, his voice is years away from its maturity.
But they have been encouraged to use technique to sell a number, which makes the production seem so flawlessly professional.
The Musical Director is Mark Sellar, who brought the same composers' Miss Saigon to this stage two years ago. And there's plenty of oomph from the pit band under the baton of Patrick Tucker.
A unique experience, seeing Victor Hugo's schoolboy revolutionaries played so convincingly by schoolboy actors, and seeing the wide Civic stage filled with children of the barricades. Thinking that this year's stirring chorus includes the performers who will take a starring role or three in years to come ...
production photograph: Louise Freeland
production photograph: Louise Freeland