It’s 25 years since Boublil and Schonberg’s musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s epic 1861 novel, Les Miserables, first hit the Barbican stage, but a quarter of a century later (with a host of productions having been seen worldwide and another playing simultaneously in the West End) this restaged, slimmed down touring anniversary version still has the power to bring an audience to its feet.
It’s hard to believe that early reviews were mixed. It’s got everything to capture the imagination and stir the soul – a Dickensian sensibility of injustice and the plight of the poor, a pure love story, protesting students, a persistent villain who will not give up his pursuit of the story’s hero over several decades, and a comic duo of innkeepers who’ll do anything to line their pockets. And that’s before you add in the mix of rousing and poignant melodies and the new computerised projections inspired by the author’s own paintings. (The escape through the sewers is particularly effective).
At the centre is John Owen-Jones as the former convict Jean Valjean who served 19 years on a chain gang for stealing food to feed a starving child and narrowly avoids reimprisonment every time he does a good deed. It’s a powerhouse of a performance, well-matched by Earl Carpenter’s obsessed Javert, the policeman intent on tracking him down. Pop Idol runner-up Gareth Gates makes a rather too boyish student Marius, Lynne Wilmot a lusty pantomime Madame Thenardier. And although the siege at the barricades is a bit short on dramatic impact, Paule Constable’s lighting adds an evocatively painterly glow to One Day More, Bring Him Home and a potent production which has lost none of its capacity to thrill.
Barbican, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS020 7638 8891
Until 2nd October
£15 – £85
Review: Louise Kingsley