Review: West End Prep Les Misérables Schools Edition at John Marley Centre

Review: West End Prep Les Misérables Schools Edition at John Marley Centre

Les Misérables Schools Edition – West End Prep
John Marley Centre, Newcastle
25th February 2024

Last year I was invited to review Everybody’s Talking About Jamie by West End Prep and I could not have been more excited to receive a return trip for this show. Not content with the challenges that Jamie presents they have embarked on the nation’s favourite musical to really give their young cast something to get their teeth into in the form of Schoenberg and Boublil’s epic Les Misérables. I have to say straight away that it far from disappoints.

For anyone who lives under a rock, or has just sailed in from Mars, Les Misérables tells the harrowing tale of Jean Valjean, who having stolen a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, finds himself incarcerated and working on a chain gang amidst the back drop of the upheaval and political unrest of the French Revolution.

The sold out audience this evening waited with baited breath for the ‘dum dum’ of the prologue and were transfixed throughout as the entire cast worked their collective socks off to bring this wonderful and emotional story to life. I am going to pick out a few for special mentions but each and every member of this young cast were outstanding and thoroughly deserved the inevitable standing ovation they got at the end of the show. As the final bars played during the playout, I must admit that even I wiped away a tear or two.

Anyone who knows anything about Les Misérables knows that the relentless pursuit by Inspector Javert (Elliot George) of the bread thief Jean Valjean (Freddie Scott) is the lynchpin of the story and these two fine, young actors took these iconic roles and made them their own. In the first half there is the wonderfully soulful ‘Stars’ sung by Javert and the much anticipated and technically tricky ‘Bring Him Home’ in act two – both of these instantly recognisable musical theatre standards were expertly executed by George and Scott respectively.

Fantine (Abbie Smart) barely makes it to the middle of act one before she is the first to meet her maker. Smart’s performance of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ was nothing short of magnificent but it was her characterisation of the tortured mother that really set her apart from others I have seen taking on this small but significant role. From a theatrical point of view, the transition from her death (sorry, spoilers – but then everyone dies – pretty much!) to the subsequent scene was beautifully executed and gave the impression of a handing over to the younger generation as her daughter, Cosette (Sophia Rose Peel) entered the stage as the now deceased Fantine ascended to heaven in a beautifully lit silhouette.

The comic relief, if it can so be described comes from the dastardly and thoroughly unpleasant Thérnadiers who are playing foster parents to the aforementioned Cosette. M. Thérnadier (Adam Sangster) thrills as the ‘Master of the House’ and gets the audience onside with his cheeky winks and grins even though the pair of them are utterly despicable – you cannot help but like them.

Another skilful transition sees Valjean rescue young Cosette from the clutches of the Thérnadiers to re-emerge as adult Cosette (Mollie Mae Hickling) to continue the story with all the characters now significantly older but no less glum.

The set designed by Jonathan Mellor is fairly static but very cleverly conceived to offer the ship at the start, a beautiful home, a factory, a courthouse, and the barricade all of which are perfectly believable with very few additions. The lighting is extraordinary and carefully thought out and designed by Paul Oliver and the costumes are appropriate with particular attention to the aesthetic of the main characters to reflect the current West End production.
The vocals from the entire cast especially when they were all singing together were absolutely sublime and had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up several times this evening. Eponine’s (Matilda Spitty) version of ‘On My Own’ was beautifully and emotionally executed. Much praise has to go to musical director, Amy Mellor and her assistant MD for their skilful coaching of this demanding score.

The sound, provided by Tyne Audio was excellent especially in such a challenging venue. The backing track gave the technicians very little scope for adjustment during the show which was noticeable in places but certainly did not detract from the performance as a whole.

My special star award goes to Ari Adebiyi who along with Finn Cassidy, Liam Mather, and Leo Humphreys take on the role of Gavroche – the precocious little Dodger-type character. Ari – who I saw this evening could walk into this role at The Stephen Sondheim Theatre on London’s West End tomorrow and no-one would bat an eyelid.

Amid all the misery (The tone of the piece is in the title) is a delightful love-at-first-sight story between the now adult Cosette and the idealistic and naive Marius (Rueben Elsworth) who are the only two characters who remain largely cheerful throughout the piece. The dynamic between the two of them was lovely and Elsworth’s diction and vocals have improved even in a year since he enthralled me as the eponymous Jamie. This is a name that I have no doubt whatsoever will be in programmes for musical theatre in the very near future.

There were a couple of mishaps this evening including a collapsing table and a free-flying wig which raised a smile. I have to congratulate M. Thénardier for making the right choice and not putting it back on.

I can tell you that this show runs until tomorrow with two more performances but there is no real point to that because is it quite rightly completely sold out. I will say that this incredibly talented company are presenting the smash hit phenomenon that is ‘Six – The Musical’ which the production team tells me will be presented in an immersive way that has to be see to be truly experienced.

I cannot wait.

  • Stephen Mark Stokoe

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