Following the journey of ex-convict Jean Valjean, Les Misérables is a tale of humanity set against the backdrop of a French uprising, writes Catherine Whitham from Clitheroe Parish Church Operatic and Dramatic Society.
The school edition performed at St Augustine’s RC High School is an abridged version of the West End musical. From the opening scene in the French dockyards it was clear that the director, Mr Matthew Williams had a vision to produce a masterpiece – and the production did not fall short.
The technical brilliance of the set design, the authenticity of the costumes and the atmospheric lighting and stage effects all brought a little piece of revolutionary France to Billington. There were even projections to help the audience keep up with the pace of the story, although at times a few more might have been helpful as the drama moved rapidly forward through time. The music, performed by a live band under the direction of Mrs Toni Hudson and Mr Matthew Howarth added to the wonderful atmosphere.
The young actors and actresses delivered flawless performances. Danny Dunn, as Jean Valjean, handled the huge vocal range as expertly as he delivered Valjean’s varied emotions. Evie Hurst’s portrayal of Fantine was nothing short of captivating while Tom Muldoon was impressive as a tormented Javert. The love triangle between Marius (Matthew Howard), Cossette (Rosie Barrett) and Eponine (Orlaith O’Beirne/Isabel Gregory) was acted beautifully and the harmonies in their numbers were impressive for such young actors while the demise of the idealistic Enjolras (Joseph Taylor) on the barricades was a powerful and poignant scene.
Gavroche, played by Jacob Reddy, and the inn-keeping Thenardiers (Haydon Wilkinson and Scarlet Dickinson) provided some light relief and contrast to the consistently dark themes of the show. One of the most impressive elements of this production was the consistent acting.
As I scanned the stage during the ensemble performances of Master of the House and One More Day I saw more than 40 children on the stage each portraying a character and there was not one moment where an individual was not fully invested in his or her own story.
The result was a believable and authentic experience with a professionalism way beyond my expectations for a school show.
The staff and pupils at the school must have put in hundreds of hours of time in rehearsals, but what an investment! Those young people will never forget the wonderful atmosphere they created, drawing the audience into the emotion of the story, nor the pure joy and satisfaction from four standing ovations. As well as being brought to tears on numerous occasions throughout the performance, the audience witnessed just how much the pupils had enjoyed creating live theatre with all its pressures and rewards. Well done St Augustine’s – a phenomenal production.