‘Les Misérables’ is a French historical novel written by Victor Hugo in 1862. It is now a stirring musical with powerful songs. The book was adapted by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel; with the music composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg and the lyrics added by Herbert Kretzmer.
The show has been performed in over 40 countries and in an incredible 22 languages.
This musical play calls for a cast that can present drama, humour, passion, violence and the most caring of love. Then they must be able to sing in the softest of voices and then capable of belting out the songs of the Revolution. Kretzmer’s lyrics are rich, with every sentence filled with meaning. Can this well-respected community theatre come anywhere near the standards required?
This phenomenal 3-hour production (the first Act is 100 minutes, with a 20-minute intermission and Act 2 is about 55 minutes) from the Darlington Players can be seen at the Marloo Theatre just off Greenmount Hill at 20 Marloo Road. The shows are presented each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sundays nights at 7.30 until Saturday 14th December. An excellent easy-to-read programme by Guy Jackson and Docuprint.
There are VERY few tickets left for this 4-week season. They could easily fill another month – and kill themselves in the process.
The Scene: 1. is the Toulon harbour near Digne in south east France (near Monaco) in 1815.
There followed 1825 scenes in Paris and Montreuil-sur-Mer (in the North West near Calais).
The Set: The Orchestra was at the rear of the stage on a platform, two metres off the stage floor. Large props were stored beneath. The black gauze that hid the orchestra acted as a projection screen for Benedict Chau’s stills.
The stage floor had a blue-grey painted cobblestone fan pattern, a huge amount of artwork but most effective and worthwhile.
Designer Owen Davis is renowned for his highly realistic sets. The construction team must have been truly dedicated and often left wondering ‘why did we volunteer?’ But Owen’s concepts are ingenious, and the resultant satisfaction must have been highly rewarding. The production’s sets were as good as the professional touring companies; in fact, I would even go a step further and say ‘better’. Owen designed a bridge, a huge ship’s mast, a dock yard, slums, a wealthy gated home, a wedding reception and a revolutionary headquarters. Every set could move so quietly that performers – like Javert – carried on with their monologues undisturbed.
There was an excellent handcart, but when a full sized, functional ox cart arrived on the stage and managed to lose a wheel on cue, this was clever designing.
The house on the left was a two-storey lathwork premises; the wood having a natural weathered appearance. This set was like a book, the house front swung around to reveal the bawdy inn and brothel within. The tables and benches looked as though they were solid oak, but the crew and cast seemed to move them and the large crates etc. around easily. There were doors leading to the parlours of love. The staircase and balcony were of solid construction, being proved by the energetic romantic couple on the landing.
Although Shelly Miller has many productions to her credit, faced with one of the most ambitious shows that any group can put on, she was pleased to get extra advice from Don Allen and Mike Hart. The complex lighting design started with the proscenium curtains being illuminated in the French flag’s red, white and blue. There then followed 150-minutes of tight spotlight operation (Lachlan Kessey, Bailey Fellows), the LEDs were used to the full with narrow beams, subtle colours and clever lighting levels. Fine work by Shelly.
The complex sound design was the incredible work of Guy Jackson. The design included a 15-piece, beautifully balanced orchestra, and two dozen microphone headsets (courageously managed by Suzy-June Wakeling) along with the usual sound effects and recorded music. The sound operators Chelsea Cook and Jade Gurney handled the whole task with a gentle hand. One sound channel seems to be overloading a speaker which was popping and close to blowing, but this is a technical glitch not an operator’s fault.
Stage manager Rob Warner was assisted by Emily Brown and an amazing stage crew (Suzy June Wakeling, Sarah Zuiddam, David Zuiddam and Jacqui Warner) who were incredibly silent in their scenery movement. Some of the sets were massive, but thanks to the skills of set designer Owen Davis the large items were mounted on quality wheels and castors. This meant that even the construction of the large barricade took less than a minute, with most scene changes taking only 20 – 30 seconds. Tremendous work. The dozens of props, including the usual hats, bags, church furniture and alter treasures were sourced and selected by Lesley Sutton. However, this show required numerous daggers and knives, then of course the four-kilogram muskets. These replicas were superbly crafted by Raymond Egan, looked most authentic and certainly added to the reality of the drama.
With such a large cast (almost 50) and so many set movements the safety of the dozen youngsters had to be taken into consideration and so Kylie Barr and Emma Redgwell became child wranglers.
After 19 years in jail for stealing bread, Jean Valjean (Paul Hayward) is released. Rejected by society, the old Bishop Myriel of Digne (John Taylor) takes Valjean in, feeds him and shows mercy. However, Valjean runs off with the church’s silverware. The police capture Valjean, but the Bishop pretends that he gave it to him; he is released. The Bishop points out that his life has been ‘spared for God’ and that he must become an honest man. When Valjean steals a coin from a young boy, who reports Valjean the police. If caught again, as a re-offender he will be hung; and so, he assumes a new identity – Monsieur Madeleine.
An attractive Parisian grisette (a respectable working-class woman) and single parent, Fantine (Catherine Archer) is wrongly arrested. Her small child, Little Cosette (Emmy Bekink) who has been left in the daytime care of the local innkeepers, cruel Madame Thénardier (Cassy Eaton) and corrupt Monsieur Thénardier (Alan Markham). Their own five children include a daughter Éponine (Charlize Gosnell) and a son Gavroche (Felix Steinwandel).
Ten years later Valjean owns businesses and becomes Mayor. He confronts the ardent police inspector, Javert (Chris Gerrish) – who started his career as a guard in Valjean’s prison – over Fantine’s harsh punishment. Later, Javert sees Valjean rescuing a man trapped under a cartwheel in Paris, but Valjean escapes again. Javert recognises Valjean the Mayor, and tells the authorities, but respectable Valjean denies Javert’s ravings and demands the release of Fantine. Fantine finds work at ‘Monsieur Madeleine’s Bakery’, but a supervisor discovers that she has an illegitimate daughter and Fantine is sacked.
With the Thénardiers’ constant demands for money, Fantine becomes ill. Valjean rescues Cosette from the Thénardiers and takes Cosette to see her mother in hospital but Javert arrives and again announces that Valjean is an escaped convict. Valjean is sent back to prison but escapes. Valjean he treats Cosette as his daughter.
The Thénardiers’ own daughter Éponine was pampered as a child and understood Cosette’s miserable situation in the house. However, Éponine sadly becomes another street kid.
In the park, Cosette (Marli van der Bijl) now a young lady, meets a law student Marius (Nic Millar) who wrongfully believes that the wicked innkeeper saved his father’s life. Cosette falls in love with this anti-Orléanist, then Marius finds himself in love with Cosette, not realising that Éponine is madly in love with him too.
Compelling Enjolras (Thomas Dimmick), the leader of the Paris uprising has regretfully enlisted a drunk, who idolises Gavroche, the eldest son of the Thénardiers. Gavroche has been a street urchin, but now fights on the barricades. Javert turns up at the barricades, pretending to be a revolutionary, but one day Gavroche spots him amongst their followers, and informs Enjolras that Javert is a spy.
ENSEMBLE: Ben Anderson, Ali Ball, David Bell, Isabella Bourgault, Alyssa Burton, Emma Caddy, Rhett Clarke, Owen Collins, Erin Craddock, Owen Davis, Kody Fellows, Sharyn Fleming, Azza Gee, Saoirse Gerrish, Keaton Humphreys, Brittany Isaia, Rhianna Lashin, Mathew Leak, Clara Lee, Jemima Lee, Heather Mackay, Felix Malcolm, Grant Malcolm, Lilly Miller, Luke Miller, Sarah Ozanne, Tahli Redgwell, Tim Sadleir, John Saxon, Emily Schinkel, Mel Scott, Liam Tickner, Rachel Vonk, Megan West and Tamara Wolf.
With prize-winning Director Joe Isaia and his equally talented Assistant Director, Jacqui Warner were both determined not to settle for second best. The cast has no dead wood; every performer was well above community theatre level, with most of the leads at the professional level. Even every youngster – Emmy and Felix were particularly magnificent – moved around the crowded stage, spoke clearly, knew their lyrics and sang in unison (no half-hearted miming). Everyone knew in advance their next position on the stage, and with a massive cast and scenery this had to be deeply ingrained. The pace was rapid throughout never flagging once but more important the energy of the actors was breathtaking.
Choreographer Arianah Isaia along with the waltz instructor Amy Davis had great fight sequences and interaction. The directors employed every metre of the auditorium and stage, from the aisles to the aprons this helped make the audience become part of the Revolution.
WAAPA trained Musical Director Tara Oorjitham was faced with almost three dozen musical numbers, each main character having their own intricate musical personality. The strong cast managed to integrate the comic and brutal flawlessly. As the storyline changed from quiet love to tragedy, from whispering to the screams of the barricades, their singing was glorious. Terrific work by the musical director.
With some songs from famous musicals, there is a subconscious expectation of quality and style. Valjean, Cosette, Éponine and Fantine had heartbreaking songs which they performed with tremendous depth of emotion. Then Enjolras, Javert and Marius were stirring with their inspiring and galvanising vocal leadership.
The whole cast gave us sadness and tension, intermingled beautifully with the delightful, skilfully presented humour of the Thénardiers.
The Band members covered 16 different instruments: on reed – Courtney Podmore, Erynn Bye, Caitlin Burke, Jeni Stevens; on brass – Alan Cressie, Jeni Stevens, Tilly Hermann-Ralph, Paul Marion: on keyboard – Jo Keenan, Emma Davis: percussion – Tegan LeBrun, Caleigh Rhee: on strings – Patrick Meyer, Megan Partridge, Cristina Filgueira, Hanae Wilding, Brian Chang, Amanda Reynolds, Kiara Burke and Brody Manson. For months Jo Keenan also wore out her fingers as rehearsal pianist.
Wardrobe mistress, Marjorie DeCaux is a true glutton for punishment. With a massive cast and each actor having several costumes the logistics must have been horrendous. The wardrobe assistants include Yvonne Miller, Anke Steinwandel, Angela Gerrish, Barbara Hughes, Linda Redman, Charlotte Meagher, Rebecca Jagot and Gill Lee.
With a period piece like this, the correct wigs, hair and makeup are most important. Lynda Stubbs and her assistant Jen Bekink excelled in accuracy.
Knowing Marloo Theatre to be one on WA’s best, I expected a valiant attempt but was actually blown away by the singing, costumes and set. This was a first-class production by any standard but brought to you at quarter of the price of the professional companies. When the whole audience gave a standing ovation, it caught the cast and technicians by surprise. Many congratulations.