Les Miserable – David Beach Nominations

We are really proud to have received these nominations on behalf of our talented students for the prestigious David Beach/Somerset Fellowship of Drama Awards

Best Sound Nomination

Best Stage Management Nomination – Dave Merrit
Best Youth Cameo Nomination – Fin Collinson & Anna Lee
Best Youth in a Lead Role Nomaination – Patrick Withey
Best Support Youth Nomination – Emma Aspray
Best Support Youth Nomination – Astrid Bishop
Best Support Youth Nomination – Becky Hinde
Best Support Youth Nomination – Dillon Berry
Best Director Nomination – Claudia Pepler & Amy Morgan-Bell
Best Production (Youth) Nomination

 A massive thank you to everyone involved in creating this wonderful production.

 

Somerset Fellowship of Drama – David Beach Competition
Introduction
I was very much looking forward to seeing Les Mis again despite it being possibly the show
that I have seen the most often in the last ten years. Tri.Art was new to me and although I
know the show backwards and have seen more than one youth production of it, it never fails
to engage and move me – if it is done well.
Although your programme gives no information about Tri.Art at all, I understand that this
production is the result of a summer school during which the youngsters have put this show
together within a very short time to be followed by a week of performances.
I am sure many of the parents will have seen their children in many shows in recent years but
for any parent watching their child for the first time they must surely have been completely
overwhelmed by this production. If I had been watching a child of mine in this show I think I
would possibly have died as I exploded with emotion, pride and a sense of having had an out
of body experience.
Un-bloody- believable.

Choice of Show
Perhaps for any teenage youth group this is good choice as it has lots of principal and
ensemble roles with – in the main – straightforward tuneful singing – which, as long as it is
within your range, is eminently singable. It may not be Sondheim in its complexity but the
orchestrated score is not always helpful to the principals trying to find the melody within it.
As such, it is not for the fainthearted or unconfident to tackle such a work. I am thinking there
must be something in the water in the Frome area that can produce so many confident
youngsters in such a small area of Somerset. Was it a good choice of show?
The perfect choice I would suggest.

Auditorium Pre-set & Welcome
It was a warm evening and the foyer crowded and so opening the auditorium only at the very
last minute may have been a good idea – keeping everyone outside for as long as possible.
It was hot inside and I am sure many of the audience would have struggled slightly with the
temperature which presumable cannot be controlled within.
Once we took our seats (the best seats in the house – thank you so much!!) I took a moment
to take in the way in which the whole theatre enticed us into 19 th century France.
The auditorium’s dim lighting was perfect – so often there is NO atmosphere within an
auditorium prior to curtain up.

The dingy feel and dark pre-set stage lighting gave us a hazy glimpse of the backdrop with
the great blue, white and red floor lighting covering the entire stage.
The auditorium down lights are I guess part of the fabric of the building and if they are on a
dimmer were at just the right level creating atmosphere whilst providing enough light for
everyone to settle easily. Guessing there is no alternative I was very happy to see the band
positioned off stage left although I did think if I had been the MD I would have suggested
that the instrumentalists all entered the area from the back SL area rather than – as several did
– stride across the full stage just prior to the start which perhaps detracted from the
atmosphere you had strived so hard to achieve – just a thought.

Direction
For me this was the greatest strength of this production. I am happy to accept that you have a
large group of very talented young people and that many of them are no doubt very
experienced.
But …. working with youngsters myself I know that the performances I witnessed could not
possibly have come entirely from the youngsters themselves. That is not to take away from
any of them the talent, control, depth of acting and maturity that so many of them oozed, but
to recognise that without the guidance, encouragement and support of an exceptional
directorial team these performances would not have come out.
I could write for a very long time about what was good about this production under this
heading but I will just highlight a few things that for me made this one of the best directed
youth productions I have seen. OK one of the best directed productions either youth or adult
that I have seen.

Firstly, the stage positioning in the majority of the scenes and principal exchanges were all
very much firmly placed down stage. Most actors are afraid of the front of the stage and of
that front row of the audience but here so much of the detail within the performances was so
in your face it was not just engaging but transfixing. It takes a great director to bring actors
right to the front and to confidently expose their emotions. The liaison between the director
and lighting designer was amazing – so many times the huge shadows cast from the floor
parcans heightened the emotion of a performance as the magnified visual sequence was
played out on the back cloth.

Of course, there are great standalone songs that we all know and have heard in various guises
over the years – sung in cabaret, or a “songs from the shows” type variety show. It must be so
tempting to sing at one’s best when performing these well-known songs – especially when
you have the vocal ability to do so. I have witnessed many professional productions of Les
Mis give us exactly that – losing the heart of the lyrics and denying us the true emotion of the
character. Your actors must have had great faith in you to allow themselves to perform these
songs with such emotion. Fantine’s I Dreamed a Dream with all the sniffs within… for me
could not have been more perfect. Eponine’s incredible and heart-wrenching On my Own was
not a performance to the audience but a private, desperate emotional outburst which was so
beautiful for us to witness with again no attempt at any point to impress. The same applied to
the beautiful love montage with Marius making no obvious attempt to impress an audience
but impressing beyond any possible expectation with the tenderness and romantic
vulnerability that he displayed
I would also like to mention the physical acting, and in particular the physical interaction
between many of the ensemble players, which was most natural but would have had to have
been nurtured and encouraged – even theatrical kids aren’t all that keen on actually
touching!!

One specific example of this – which I confess brought yet another tear to my eye – was
when JV was singing Bring Him Home which is so often sang with JV and Marius on
opposite sides of the stage. At one point, JV stroked Marius’ hair into place in a most natural
and beautiful way – a simple gesture that I am sure came from the director and heightened an
already emotionally charged scene.
The transitions between scenes, the modern and excellent use of projection, the interaction
between the players and the mature and professional performances that this directing team
managed to produce were the reason I think it was hard to imagine we were watching
amateurs – let alone teenagers.

Lighting, Set and Costume Design
OK so you are not going to win any prizes in a competition for amateur theatre for your set,
costumes or lighting when you hire them in or hire in professionals to provide them. This
professional set, including the amazing barricade, worked exceptionally well for this size
performance area. The use of furniture in the main – rather than scenery – was absolutely the
right decision and that is what also gave this production a professional and modern look.
What you did in hiring a set was to give your performers the absolute best experience in
terms of being able to perform this show as the professionals do. What an amazing thing to
have been able to facilitate for this group of youngsters who will – partly due to the amazing
set and costumes together with the level of professional lighting – never, ever forget this
show for as long as they live.
What an amazing gift you have been able to give these youngsters and their families.
The costumes were absolutely great enhancing some of the scenes such as the lovely ladies,
again to a professional level.

I recognise that when you hire in costumes they don’t always fit perfectly and they also need
to be maintained during the week and so I do acknowledge and applaud all those on the team
who were involved in fitting the costumes once they had arrived albeit that no-one seems to
have been credited for this in the programme – a huge job I would think – very well done.
The lighting in this show was also a major factor in making us feel we were watching a
professional show. I have already mentioned the use of the floor parcans which added so
much to the intimate scenes as well as the profiles and floods which gave great coverage with
some amazingly detailed specials with actors almost always being able to find their light
easily. The back lighting of the barricade added to the excitement of the scene and the
occasional use of really strong lighting to highlight the lovely ladies and the Thenardiers was
really effective

You might not be eligible under the SFoD rules in the Best Lighting, Best Set and Best
Costume categories but you absolutely get my top award for facilitating the highest level of
production values to give both your cast and your audiences the best possible experience.
Surely that’s got to be better than any piece of silverware…. remember this experience will
never have to be given back!

Stage Management
Much of the set/furniture changing was done by the cast to great effect and there were only a
few occasions when the stage crew were in evidence. This was a slick and very well managed
production and I appreciate that the downside of any hired set is that it doesn’t always fit
either on stage or in the wings! You also have limited time to practice with as well which all
adds to the pressure on the SM function. As far as I could appreciate everything went
perfectly on the Saturday night by which time perhaps you had everything off to a tee?

The SM function is not just about scenery shifting – it is important for the SM to have control
of the back-stage areas ensuring everyone is safe and of course in the right place at the right
time. With some very large pieces of set in the wings there is an added duty of care and so
despite there not being frequent huge scene changes a high level of control and care is
needed. Very well done.

Props
I wasn’t sure how much of the furniture/etc came with the set and how much was set dressing
by your props team. All of the barrels, wooden boxes etc looked really good and robust –
until Gavroche put his foot through one of them! The tables didn’t always look quite strong
enough given the number of times someone needed to get up on them….I think the insecure
table legs will have given others, not just me, a slight thought of …will they…won’t they!
There were lots of other really good period looking props and furniture such as the white bed,
the ecclesiastical paraphernalia, the meat grinder and all the pub stuff from the travelling bag
to the tankards, the rifles and the flags. Everything looked right and I am sure was all in the
right place at the right time. Props can often be a bit of a thankless task but I thought you did
a great job with this show. Well done.

Sound
You have told us that your level of sound has been achieved without professional input and to
that end I must congratulate you. The sound for this production was better than many
productions I have seen in which they have engaged professionals to undertake this role
which is the biggest differentiator between professional and amateur shows. OK there were a
few missed cues and of course Fantine’s mic failed in the final scene which was a shame but
despite these occurrences – and whatever the reason for them – this level of technical
achievement from non-professionals was exceptional. The quality of the sound mixing
ensured we caught every word and in particular the emotion within the vocals allowing the
actors to not even think about performing or having to project which, time after time, gave us
a sincerity of performance that was largely facilitated by the sound operator. Very well done.

Hair, Wigs & Make-up
All of those involved in this aspect of this production should be very pleased. Everyone who
should have looked grubby – did, everyone who should have looked tarty – did, and those
who shouldn’t look like they are wearing make-up – didn’t. The wigs all looked in period
with none looking too wiggy – and they were all worn with confidence. It is so difficult to
make a 16-year- old age into an old man and perhaps this was one of your biggest challenges.
It is interesting how acceptable Patrick always looked within the show and then in the calls
we could see the level to which you had applied make-up. This shows a make-up artist who
fully understands the need to judge make-up under the stage lights and not the dressing room
lights ….so very well done.

Musical Direction
In employing a professional MD, you ensured the very best support for your youngsters and
also ensured an amazing treat for your audience. OK, one might have a fuller sound at the
Queens Theatre – might have – but honestly this was a really tight band producing a sound
worthy of a much bigger pit. From the soaring anthems to the beautiful love songs this MD
not only produced an amazing sound from the pit but was able to instil into the company a
level of confidence that ensured everyone – including the ensemble members – gave a
performance as if they were a soloist. The ensemble work was particularly impressive with
everyone without exception being confident in the lyrics and notation which I am guessing
will have had a lot to do with the work they have done with the MD. The layering of
professional and experienced input into this production may not be unique but must surely be
rare and the consequence is one of a production of rare and exceptional quality.

Choreography & Dancing
Of course, Les Mis isn’t a dancing show in the way that Top Hat is but there are numerous
opportunities to lift the presentation through movement which can be taken or ignored. In this
production, every opportunity was taken to move the company including One Day More,
Lovely Ladies, Master of the House and of course the Wedding. Perhaps the ballroom
sequence in the wedding with the reverse turns was one of the more complicated routines and
all were executed well. There were also many sequences which to the audience may have
seemed simply coming on and off but I know even the simple sequences such as Turning,
Turning and the ghosts in Empty Chairs all have to be set, positioned and moved in time with
the music. Subtle choreography which, again, heightens the emotion of the singing. In such a
busy show it would be easy not to put such care and detail into these lesser sequences – but
here – because everyone cares so much – not putting in every effort – is not an option.
Great work.

Individual Performances
Jean Valjean – Patrick Withey
This iconic role in musical theatre is a huge role to learn with some very difficult vocal
sequences requiring you to know the music inside out. For a young actor, it is not easy to
portray the range of physicality required and the range of emotion that this role demands. I
find it hard to imagine another 16-year- old that could have done a better job that you did
Patrick. With the help of the director I think you gave us a Valjean that was perfect for this
production. A great voice that never slipped into cabaret style and you grew into this role as
the evening progressed. Very well done. You were amazing.

Javert – George Tucker
With some of the most difficult singing that the score demands you approached this role with
a stillness that gave you authority and strength. You commanded the stage whenever you
appeared and your great rendition of Stars together with your bridge scene made this a
performance to remember. Very well done.

Fantine – Astrid Bishop
Fantine is vulnerable as well as being tenacious and we need to see her strength come from
her desperate situation. You were able to show all these facets in a completely unacted way
and your rendition of I Dreamed a Dream could not have been more perfect for me. I loved
it. Your death scene was very moving and I think you should be really, very pleased with
what you achieved with this role. Great work.

M. Thenardier – Anna Lee
Perfect casting. All the right assets. All the talent and personality with a great character voice.
Deliciously vile. What’s not to like?

Thenardier – Fin Collinson
Quite a different role to Jacob! Another perfect casting of an actor who has everything that
this role requires. Without doubt the best Thenardier I have seen and another great
performance from an incredibly talented young actor. I suppose the character was aided by an
amazing costume but you exude confidence and warmth, have great comic timing and
amazing facial expressions giving us the only real light relief in the show. Brilliant.

Marius – Dillon Berry
There is always one performance that really stands out as something very special. For me this
performance was my stand-out performance of the evening. Within a group of teenagers, I
suppose it is the role of Marius that is likely to look the most age appropriate of all the
principal roles and so perhaps you had the advantage that in costume you looked exactly right
for this role. Whereas all the other principals were really well acted and all brilliant in their
own right – I felt in Marius that I wasn’t watching someone playing Marius – I felt I was
watching Marius himself. It wasn’t a portrayal but more an embodiment of this character.
Dillon gave us a handsome romantic lead with an incredible vulnerability and romantic
charm that never once appeared anything other than completely natural. In song, you were
beautiful and I think I was most moved by your performance because it was so believable.
I first saw you as Tobias and you have grown into a really talented performer. What next?

Foreman – Ollie Edwards
As the foreman, you showed strength both physically and in song and this important role
demonstrates the unfair world in which Fantine finds herself so early on in the show. It is
always a shame when you are double cast and look forward to an appreciative adjudication
only to find that the adjudicator is coming on an evening you aren’t playing the main role.
From the impact you made as the foreman I am sure that your performances as Marius would
have been equally as strong and very well done for having learnt both roles for this show.

Eponine – Becky Hinde
This was a very mature performance – well studied and as I have mentioned before a
beautifully unacted performance allowing us into the sad world that Eponine lives in. Her
unrequited love hits home with so many of us and I think lyrically anyone who really listens
to the words, feels an instant connection with the sentiment. I think On My Own is probably
more relevant to many of the audience than I Dreamed a Dream and I think it is this song that
really gets to people. Only of course if it sung emotionally and not cabaret style. Your
rendition was again perfect because it was as if you weren’t performing it. I suspect – in the
moment – it would have been one of the most moving parts of the show for the audience.

Young Eponine – Faireday Head
The character of young Eponine is possibly one of the few characters in the show that we
don’t like! When she grows up we all change our minds about her but as a youngster we
don’t like her! She is spoilt and has little regard for Cosette. Although this is only a minor
role in Act I it is important to help establish the characters of the Thenardiers and also the
horrible world in which Cosette lives. In a quiet and assured way you made your presence
known.

Gavroche – Joely Hudson
A confident and cheeky portrayal of Gavroche gave us the only other lighter moments. An
energetic physicality coupled with a great character singing voice gave us everything we
could ask for from this character. The lyrics sung by Gavroche are really important in moving
the story along and of course Gavroche has some of the defining moments – the
announcement of the death of General Lamarque and the identification of the traitor Javert
and so it is important that we engage with Gavroche and hear what he has to say.
Well done for coping with the collapsing barrel too! A very engaging performance indeed.

Cosette – Emma Aspray
Beautifully sung with an innocence that shows us the sheltered environment in which Cosette
has grown up. Your face lights up in the presence of Marius and your adoration of him comes
over as genuine and real. Musically this is a very difficult sing with a high soprano line which
can – and often does – sound screechy. No such problem here as you soared into the top notes
with ease. Very well done,

Young Cosette – Abi Sparrow
With a lovely clear rendition of Castle on a Cloud you were able to give us the timid and
frightened Cosette we were looking for. On the basis of talent development with this
company you may well end up playing the older Cosette next time round! Well done.

Enjolras – Ollie Lamb
Let’s start with the perfect hair and go on from there! Enjolras has to inspire and lead with
strength and you certainly did exactly that. In the café in the planning stages and at the
barricade you lead the group and with great charisma and a strong voice and you absolutely
justified your casting in this important pivotal role.

Students – Christian Wye, Tom MaCallam, Ben Stone, Jack Brotherton,
George Plant, James Cattey.
As a group of students, you bonded well and sang all of your sequences with gusto and
strength. I really liked the way in which you were able to be physical with each other. This
was an amazing opportunity for a group of young men to show what can be done with just a
small ensemble when you are all 100% committed to the performance. Very strong.

Ensemble – Eloise Kilkelly-Doyle, Conny Hunter, Maisie Fogg,
Millie Weare, Emily Ibbitson, Erin Walters, Izzy King,
Holly Fleetwood, Florence Boventer, Georgia Ashford Miller,
Cordelia Tarbrooke, Liv Selby, Emma Golay, Ciaran Wood,
Sebastian Boyden, Archie Fogg, Lottie Packer, Kaylyn Neale, Kaitlin
Ainslie-King, Grace Rawlins, Bee Thomas and Daisy Wellstead.

With numerous step-out roles and individually sung lines every member of the ensemble
showed great commitment and a high level of learning as all the company songs were clearly
word perfect in their presentation. From the Bishop and his housekeeper to the factory
workers, lovely ladies and their customers and the pub goers, all of the ensemble had their
moment to shine and the singing was never better than when you were all on stage singing as
a group of soloists – really very good. There wasn’t a weak link in this production and as an
ensemble you absolutely stood up there with a great line-up of principals. You all performed
in character and believe me when I say we – the audience – could see every one of you and
could see the degree to which you took on the challenges of this production.

************

There are defining moments in all of our lives and things we will never forget.
This production will surely be one of those moments for all involved and I think the entire
production team who have facilitated this experience for this group of children should be
applauded for the impact they will have had on the lives of these young people.
This production team is truly inspirational.
I’m not sure I ever need to see Les Mis again having seen this brilliant production – which I
am sure I will remember myself for a very long time to come.
I will look forward to seeing many of these young faces in future productions either as an
adjudicator for the SFoD or on one of my regular visits to London’s West End where surely
some of these actors are destined to work in years to come.
My very best wishes for your next show. Don’t try to better Les Mis …. just enjoy the next
project…. and let it be fabulous in its own right.

Andy Marchant
Adjudicator – David Beach Awards

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