Director: Claudia Pepler and Amy Maughan
Musical Director: Joseph Church
Vocal Coach: Dora Bishop
all photographs are the property of Dave Merritt Photography
Valjean Patrick Withy
Javert George Tucker
Fantine Astrid Bishop
M.Thenadier Anna Lee
Little Cosette Abi Sparrow
Thenadier Fin Collinson
Gavroche Joely Hudson
Cosette Emma Aspray
Enjolras Ollie Lamb
Bishop Christian Wye
Marius/ Foreman Ollie Edwards / Dillon Berry
Eponine Becky Hinde/Emma Golay.
Factory Girl 5 Georgia Ashford Miller
Old Woman Daisy Wellstead
Fauchelevant Tom Mc Callum
Combeferre Ben Stone
Feuilly Jack Brotherton
Grantaire George Plant
Young Eponine Faireday Head
Lovely Ladies / Ensemble:
Georgia Ashford Miller
Becky Hinde/Emma Golay
David Beach Competition – Review
From the darkness of the opening words ‘Look down’ to the exhilarating final ‘when tooooomorrooow coooooomes!’ Claudia Pepler and Amy Maughan’s remarkable youth production of Les Mis had me by the heartstrings. This was a demonstration of just how good youth theatre can be. Raising us to heights of hope and dashing us to the depths of despair, the Tri.Arts group elegantly and expertly forced the full-house audience at the Merlin Theatre through the wringer of emotions, leaving us exhausted but uplifted. What a performance.
Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Les Misérables remains for me a ‘gold standard’ show. Hugo’s sprawling story, packed with fascinating characters, life and death struggles, emotional destruction and extraordinary salvation might have been considered by many to be too dark and challenging for the world of musical theatre. However, the French duo shaped and reshaped the narrative into a thing of beauty. The sung-through, sub-operatic style is perfect and even in the sensitively truncated School Edition none of the hard-hitting realism is lost. A great show it maybe but a Director and cast have to really deliver with conviction, passion and guts to make a successful production: It doesn’t direct or perform itself!
Director Claudia Pepler in partnership with Movement Director and Co-Producer Amy Maughan were joined by their Tri.Art creative team: Musical Director Joseph Church, Assistant Director Dora Bishop et al to adopt a simple design: a generic shabby building backdrop, enhanced with mobile items like the gates to the Rue Plumet house and the impressive barricade and simple furnishings- chairs, tables etc to allow the performances to speak for themselves. It was the human element that provided the spectacle.
The technical side of things: sound and light in particular were very well managed indeed. Matt Tipper’s lighting design maintained a dark and gloomy feel, often enhanced with smoke but always allowed the action to be seen (very easy to go OTT on the gloom for this show and loose the actors). Cuing was spot on. A particular bête noir for me this season has been sound quality- singing or speaking the most meaningful lyrics or dialogue is virtually pointless unless it can be heard. Simon Bowman’s sound design, combined with Oli Wareham’s operation was of the highest order. Despite the presence of a powerful nine-piece orchestra every word was crystal clear – praise to the performers certainly but the techies equally certainly shone.
The Ensemble are such an important element to any show’s success, particularly Les Mis. The Lovely Ladies were terrific, individual personalities clearly apparent; focus and engagement never faltered. The rest of the Ensemble were equally strong: powerful singing when required for the big numbers or subtlety of voice and movement for the sensitive moments like Drink with Me. Eloise, Conny, Maisie, Millie, Emily, Erin, Izzy, Holly, Florence, Georgia, Cordelia, Becky, Emma, Liv, Ciaran, Sebastian, Archie, Lottie, Kaylyn, Grace and Bee should be extraordinarily proud of themselves.
The principals for this show are huge characters moving through life shattering times: no easy roles here! I regret that I was unable to see both teams of leading roles but I hear great things about those I missed. I have just re-read the list of ages for this team and frankly, having seen them perform, it is very hard to believe how young everyone is.
Patrick Withey gave us Valjean in a tour de force performance – vocally lovely and with a presence for which many very experienced actors would happily kill; George Tucker’s Javert turned my head even in his opening lines with his power and certainty, his journey towards self destruction was expertly handled; Astrid Bishop’s Fantine was sensitively portrayed with her lovely voice and impressive stillness; I saw Dillon Berry’s gentle Marius – his Empty Chairs was powerful and moving; Beck Hinde’s Eponine was another beautiful vocal and her physical acting for her death in Marius’ arms brought tears for me; The despicable Thernardiers Fin Collinson and Anna Lee were a great pairing managing the balance between grotesque shock-factor and humour very well indeed; Emma Aspray coped very well with Cosette’s soaring high notes, her love for Marius and her ‘Father’ was palpable and Joely Hudson charmed us all with her spirited Gavroche. Space precludes me reviewing every performance here but the Students under the inspiring and energetic Enjolras played by Ollie Lamb: Tom McCallum, Ben Stone, Jack Brotherton, George Plant and James Cattey were all strong, engaging and impressive. There really was no weak link in this cast: Georgia Ashford Miller’s Factory Girl, Daisy Wellstead’s Old Woman, Christian Wye’s Priest, Abi Sparrow’s Little Cosette and Fairday Head’s Young Eponine completed an extraordinary team.
Musically the show sparkled. MD Joseph Church and his nine-strong orchestra were tight and disciplined, with power aplenty or soft subtlety as required. Singing was also of a very high order. Yes, there were a few slightly tired voices but that level of passionate singing for a week will do that to you! Regardless, songs were performed. High spots for me were the iconic Bring Him Home, A Little Drop of Rain and Empty Chairs though there were many more standouts.
Claudia and Amy certainly knows their business: pace was beautifully and sensitively managed, movement was precise and meaningful, the performances elicited from so many young players were remarkable. I love the little touches too: the lamps representing Marius’ fallen comrades and the choreographed movement of the ‘ghosts’ as they bent to extinguish them – goosebumps.
Now this is where I generally talk about the ‘but’ and list a few things that could have been done better……..Hmmmm…….struggling here.
What a show, what a team, what a cast.
The Fine Times Recorder – Review
LES Miserables is truly a phenomenon – no other musical has run for as long in London, since 1985, or been revived so soon (twice) on Broadway, and with a school edition available since 2001 and the film version hitting screens a few years ago even more people have seen this show.
This week it is the turn of the good people of Frome to have this phenomenon visit the Merlin Theatre, courtesy of their resident Tri.Art Theatre School, in the School Edition, which I first saw in 2002, having seen the West End show many times, on tour, and in four countries. The cast at Frome are very competent, with good singing and acting skills, and while it would be unfair to single out too many of what is a great ensemble, the Thenardiers, played by Fin Collinson and Anna Lee filled their roles very well, with good comic timing, precise delivery, and a lovely, believable, if a little strained at times, relationship. These are two of the most accessible roles in the show, but it can be too easy to overplay them, so credit is due to these two young actors. The big solo songs all came across well, with my favourite being I Dreamed a Dream, during which Astrid Bishop as Fantine acted her grubby socks off, with strong emotion, cutting long notes short, rather as Anne Hathaway does in the film. Patrick Withey was strong and imposing as Valjean, whose story this is, and his voice had a good adaptability for the stronger songs, as well as the quieter prayer Bring Him Home. George Tucker’s Javert was serious and brooding, and he imploded well as he realised that fate was not on his side. It is a pity the School Edition only allows him one verse of Stars, but that one verse was performed with aplomb. Marius and Eponine, Oliver Edwards and Emma Golay tonight, also sang their well-known numbers with gusto and reality, imbuing both of them, Empty Chairs and On My Own, with just the right level of sadness. When singing with Cosette as well, in the garden, these three voices were sweet, accurate, and a delight to hear, and as Cosette Emma Aspray’s voice was clear and precise. Special mention must also go to Gavroche and young Cosette, Joely Hudson and Abi Sparrow respectively, who are always loved by audiences, but who also have to be every bit as good as the rest, and tonight they were, with audible shock in the audience when Gavroche meets his untimely end.
The great thing about the School Edition is that the director is not limited by professional cost, so that the ensemble can be much bigger than in the professional version, and this Theatre School used all of their acting skills to give some wonderful ensemble work, from the men pulling the rope on the chain gang at the beginning, through the Lovely Ladies working the docks, to the large finales of each act, all playing individuals, but working together, and relishing that now-famous Les Mis rocking step – forward, centre, behind, centre, through Do You Hear the People Sing and One Day More. This ensemble should be proud of their detail work, as well as the big production numbers.
It is all too easy these days to buy or produce a recorded backing track, so it was another bonus to have a live band for this show, with a couple of glitches on the first night, but generally giving good support, and some beautiful solo playing of the counter melodies on woodwind and brass.
This was a good production of a very difficult show, and anyone seeing it for the first time would be amazed at the level of talent involved. Tri.Arts should be very proud of their company, and this production.