Archive | July, 2011

Les Misérables, Queen’s Theatre, June 2011

25 Jul

Les Misérables is based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel of the same name and set in early 19th-century France. The plot follows the stories of many characters as they struggle for redemption and revolution, whereby the focus is on Jean Valjean, who tries to turn his life around after his release from prison.

The musical celebrated its 25th Anniversary last year with two concerts in the O2 Arena and a cast of past and present West End and Broadway cast members as well as some ‘names’, such as Matt Lucas and Nick Jonas.

If I had to chose a favourite musical, it would be this one. I love the way the book has been adapted for the stage and how every ensemble member has their own character(s) to play. It’s a timeless and epic story and the music supports it beautifully. Or maybe I should say ‘supported’.

I’ve seen the musical a lot, but this time, for the very first time, I left completely disappointed. I have a very clear idea what the characters should be like (according to the book), so if you are a fan of any of the current cast members you might want to stop reading here!

After a great reception at the 25th Anniversary Concert, Alfie Boe has taken on the role of Jean Valjean again. While he undoubtedly has a great voice, I was disappointed by his performance at the O2 and the Classical Brit Awards, because I felt that he didn’t really act the part and left me totally cold.
I am glad to say that his acting has improved in the meantime, but unfortunately it’s still not great. His Valjean still left me cold and he didn’t manage to capture my attention the way other Valjeans did. For me, he switched between overacting and very big gestures (especially at the beginning during ‘What Have I Done‘ and ‘Who Am I‘) and not acting at all. I always felt that I was watching Alfie Boe singing Valjean’s part, but never really the character himself. This was most obvious during ‘Bring Him Home‘, though vocally it was probably one of the best renditions I’ve ever heard.
All in all, I prefer a more MT sounding voice, which might be less perfect, but belongs to someone who can do the part justice. From the 6 different Valjeans I’ve seen so far, I’d definitely rate 5 of them higher than him, I’m afraid.

I’ve only seen Hadley Fraser in some concerts before and really liked him, but when I heard that he was cast as Javert I was worried that he might be too young to be believable. Unfortunately, he was. I wanted to like him, but he looked, sounded and acted far too young. He lacked the authority, determination, dignity, intelligence, sarcasm and coolness that Javert needs, but was running around frantically instead and shouted a lot. I don’t generally have a problem with young Javerts, Richard Woodford (u/s 2008/09) was younger as well, as was Jeff Nicholson (u/s 2009/10/11) and I found both of them very good, vocally and acting-wise. I didn’t even find Hadley’s voice really suited for Javert and he was completely drowned out by Alfie Boe during the ‘Confrontation‘. He did seem to get better as the show went on though and his ‘Suicide‘ was quite good.

Caroline Sheen is another one who I wanted to like, mainly because I love her album and thought she would be quite good as Fantine. But I ended up not liking her Fantine at all. Vocally she was okay, nothing special, but I found her acting really off putting. She either seemed to overact or just star into space. ‘I Dreamed A Dream‘ was completely underwhelming.

The less said about Matt Lucas the better. He seemed to play it only for laughs and I found his ad-libbing unnecessary, out of place and cheap. Vocally he was nothing special and unfortunately he doesn’t seem to get the character at all.

Katy Secombe as Madame Thénardier was alright, but nothing to write home about. I did enjoy her performance, but she didn’t really add anything new to the character.

I really wanted to like Liam Tamne as Enjolras, because I thought he was great in Departure Lounge and a couple of concerts I have seen him in. His Enjolras, however, lacked any leadership skills and he seemed to be convinced from the very beginning that they would fail. Surprisingly I didn’t find him very strong vocally either and he seemed to struggle a bit with some notes. It was most notable during the ‘Final Battle‘ (‘until the earth IS FREE’). While his death looked awkward and wooden, I hope that this will improve with time. I still think he’s a great performer, just not suited to Enjolras.

I don’t know what to say about the new Eponine, Alexia Khadime. She seemed to try to be a cute, innocent and very young Eponine, but she didn’t pull it off at all. She even seemed to put on a little girl voice at some points, but I struggled to find anything about her Eponine that I liked.

I’m not sure what I should think of Lisa Anne Wood, the new Cosette, either. I really liked her at times, but not so much at others. Vocally I didn’t find her particularly strong during the higher bits. Cosette needs such a strong actress to make the part not totally boring and I’m not sure if she is that yet. She had great chemistry with Craig Mather though and I’m sure her portrayal will grow on me when I see her again.

For me, the ‘saving grace’ of this (principal) cast was Craig Mather as Marius. He was adorable, young, everything Marius should be and has a great voice. I loved his ‘Empty Chairs At Empty Tables‘ and his part of ‘Little Fall of Rain‘. I never liked Gareth Gates’ audible sobbing in this scene, but when Craig did it, it was heartbreaking and totally believable. My only ‘criticism’ is that he wasn’t given a wig and his hair cut looks far too modern for 19th-century France, but that’s a very minor quibble.

It’s not really a principal part, but I enjoyed Adam Linstead‘s Grantaire very much. He was great in the Café ABC scene and I really liked his interaction with Marius before ‘Drink With Me‘ as well as his part in that song. He didn’t play Grantaire, he was Grantaire.

The same is true for Fra Free (Jean Prouvaire), Jay Brice (Lesgles) and Christopher Jacobsen (Courfeyrac/drunk at the wedding), who managed to remind me why I love this musical so much.

Still, I missed all the ad-libbing between the students, they didn’t really seem to have found their own personalities yet. I know it’s early days so that might still come.

There are some small changes in the staging as well. I liked the change in ‘Drink With Me‘ (no interaction with the girls at the beginning), but apart from that I’ll have to stick with ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it!’. Fantine’s fight with Bamatabois looked all over the place and the marching in ‘One Day More’ looks odd now.

The same is true for the orchestrations. I didn’t like them when I saw the tour and I still don’t like them now, no matter how often I’m told that they are far superior and less dated. For me, they make the music lose its impact, especially during ‘Lovely Ladies‘ and Javert’s entrance before ‘Fantine’s Arrest‘.

However, the majority of the audience seemed to love it, so my opinion will be rather unpopular, but all in all I think this is the weakest cast I’ve seen. Nevertheless I’m planning to go back to see Jonathan Williams (alternate Valjean) soon and I hope the rest of the cast (mainly the ensemble) will have settled in by then.

The Diary of Anne Frank, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

22 Jul

The play The Diary of Anne Frank follows the lives of eight people in Amsterdam, who have to hide during World War II to escape deportation and is based on Anne Frank’s real diary.

The story of Anne Frank and her family has moved thousands of people since her diary was first published in 1947. I am one of them. I can’t even remember how often I have read it, as well as any other book about her that I could find. But I’ve never seen the play, though it turned out to be mostly the same as the 1959 movie version.

This production of The Diary of Anne Frank was originally produced by The Broadway Studio in Catford before it transferred to the Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre and gave me a chance to finally see it.

It’s a lovely venue and the scenery was very clever, giving the audience a feel for the cramped confinement the family and their friends had to live in, while at the same time maintaining a clear division between the different rooms.

Anne Frank was played by Helen Philips. She gave a very moving performance all in all and there were moments when I thought she was great, but there were many occasions when she tried too hard to come across as a 13/14/15 year old girl and I didn’t find her believable at all, especially in the quieter scenes.

Anthony Wise was great as Otto Frank. His Otto Frank was always optimistic, generous and diplomatic, while at the same time secretly terrified of what the future might hold for them. I don’t think anyone will ever beat Ben Kingsley’s portrayal for me, but he is very close.

I really liked Rachel Lee Kolis, who played Margot Frank, even though she didn’t have that much to do, but I felt her portrayal was very sincere.

Doris Zajer as Edith Frank was good, but I don’t think her character is very interesting (just in the play, not in general obviously).

I liked Jean Perkins and James Bartholomew as Herman and Petronella van Pels. It usually annoys me when they are simply portrayed as selfish and disagreeable (as they so often are), but they both managed to move me and make me feel for their characters, despite a script which, once again, tries to show them in a less favourable light. But I guess this way it is more dramatic.

Ross Hatt played their son Peter. I really liked his characterisation, in the beginning just awkward and self-conscious until he later started to grow more confident and sure of himself.

Stephen McGlynn as Fritz Pfeffer was very good, too. His portrayal clearly showed his uneasiness of being the only stranger among them, with no family support, but, again, I found that his character is far too one-dimensional and negative. I did enjoy his performance though, it’s the script I have a problem with.

Katy Baker and Christopher Raikes as Miep Gies and Victor Kugler were good. They provided the necessary hope for most of the play, so that it is not completely sad and depressing. I did wonder however, why the writers chose those two and decided to leave the other two helpers, Johannes Kleiman and Bep Voskuijl, out.

Jon-Paul Rowden and Olivia O’Shea played the Nazi Officers who arrested them.

My only real criticism of this production is the way the arrest is handled and it’s not just because I know that it wasn’t like that at all. I simply found all that shouting and display of violence completely unnecessary and it didn’t leave any room for feeling anything for me. A quieter scene would have had more impact on me I think and would have actually moved me. I found it quite hard to get back into the atmosphere of the play for the very last scene afterwards, but Anthony Wise’s short recount of what had happened to them after the arrest was heart-breaking.

I’m glad I finally managed to see the play and I thoroughly enjoyed it all in all. It will close on Saturday, but I urge anyone who can get there before that to go and see it! It’s one of those evenings that stay with you for a long time!