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Les Misérables, Birmingham Hippodrome – review

By Kirsten Rawlins | Birmingham entertainment | Published:

It is a gritty yet beautiful tale which pays testament to the strength of men through times of poverty and subjugation.

Photo: Matthew Murphy

And though it is based on a novel written more than 150 years ago, the story has very much stood the test of time - as could be seen by the reactions from the crowd when Les Misérables opened at Birmingham Hippodrome last night.

A thrilling whirlwind of emotions from start to end, the show provoked tears, laughter and real feelings of love, hatred and comradery for its many characters.

Les Misérables gives an insight into the rich-poor divide in France during the early 19th century, focussing on the horrendous living conditions and the people’s desperation not only to survive, but to force a revolution.

Within this are the stories of a number of characters, from the sad tale of Fantine, a mother whose partner has left her alone to fend for herself and her child Cosette, to that of former inmate Jean Valjean who was sentenced to 19 years hard labour for stealing bread to feed his starving nephew.

Jean is then pursued for much of the rest of his life by police officer Javert after fleeing parole. Having turned his life around thanks to the kindness of a stranger, Jean becomes a factory owner and mayor, employing Fantine. But when she is let go by the manager and a series of events lead to her demise, Jean pledges his life to the care of little Cosette.

The story then continues years later, following the lives of not only Jean, Cosette and Javert, but also those looking to overthrow the system by means of war.

Photo: Helen Maybanks

Les Misérables was unbelievably gripping from the get-go; the first half in particular stunning the crowd with such power that they were fixated on the stage, sat in absolute silence and awe. It was truly tremendous.

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Taking on the main role of former inmate Jean was Killian Donnelly; a phenomenally talented all-rounder, with astounding vocal range, strength and diction; stunning acting skills; and excellent stage presence. Though he was surrounded by a very gifted cast, he was undoubtedly star of the show.

Playing the part of Javert, meanwhile, was the strong, superbly talented Nic Greenshields who portrayed the role of the unyielding, obsessive police officer perfectly, while impressing with stupendously powerful vocals.

Fantine, meanwhile, was depicted beautifully by the lovely Katie Hall, who had the audience in the palm of her hand; her gentle mannerisms and childlike features making her tragic tale all the more hard to bear.

From the ridiculous, hilarious and grotesque landlords Monsieur and Madame Thénardier, to the gentle and endearing Bishop of Brujon, the astonishing cast impressed time and time again.

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This array of talent was showcased amid a brilliantly designed set, which quickly and effectively transformed the stage from a boat, to a street of multi-storey houses, a series of sewage tunnels and much more.

Key scenes such as the deaths of the people’s soldiers at the barricade were also portrayed with excellent originality, with flashes of light used to depict gunfire and the end of their lives.

Les Misérables would, of course, not have been complete without the iconic music by Claude-Michel Schhönberg which was beautifully, faultlessly delivered by the excellent orchestra.

The show’s only flaw was perhaps the casting of Cosette and Éponine Thénardier, whose vocals seemed weak at times in comparison to the astonishingly strong voices of the men in the play.

It most certainly did not take any of the shine away from this wonderful production, however; the impact and sheer excellence of which words can scarcely do justice.

A truly outstanding stage adaptation of an iconic musical and an absolute must-see.

It runs at Birmingham Hippodrome until May 11 and is returning to the city centre venue next year from June 30 to July 18.

Kirsten Rawlins

By Kirsten Rawlins
@kirsten_Star

Online Entertainment Editor for the Express & Star and Shropshire Star. E-mail me kirsten.rawlins@expressandstar.co.uk, or phone 01902 319368

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