|Posted on February 21, 2015 at 5:25 PM|
With an incomprehensible amount of money spent on the combined cost of both the right to perform and film such a prestigious musical, the authentic costumes and props of the actual cinematic production, as well as the elements of the West End set itself, the modest price of £5 per ticket doesn’t seem like much to spend on ‘Les Mis’. In all honesty, I feel as if I have robbed the school; £5 for a performance worthy of the West End? An absolute steal.
I was lucky enough to attend the sold-out final night, forfeiting the prospect of a Friday evening after a week whose atmosphere can only be described as the dreg-ends of a long term, and I would do it again, without a second thought. Coming out of the theatre, the general consensus was absolute awe over the overall quality of every single performer, there was not one flat note, not one forgotten line, and not one mistake- or noticeable one at least. This widespread quality however only makes those who stood out more impressive, with the obvious names being Rob Heffer, the painfully misunderstood lead role Jean Valjean with a projection that just won’t quit (I’m not ashamed to say he stole my heart, and you’d be lying if you said you didn’t develop even a tiny crush on him); Oli Francis, whose overwhelming stage-presence as Javert demanded the attention of every eye in the room; and of course, the down-right stunning voice of Chloe Champkin as the tragic Fantine- let’s just say the fact that a year 11, a member of the youngest age group in the production, was able to bring a tear to even the most macho of men with ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ is a testament, and the epitome, of the top-class quality brought to Berkhamsted through this musical. As the name suggests, the tears just kept flowing as Jessica Little, a petite Year 12 with a disproportionately powerful voice, performed a death that could have put Mufasa’s in The Lion King’s to shame…not an easy feat. And of course, we can’t forget the endearing coupling of our Head Boy and Girl, Xavier Owen and Ophelia Jeffery, as the love-struck Marius and Cosette, both delivering the vocals and acting of pure professionalism. Last of the lead roles, but by absolutely no means the least, were the hilarious and utterly unique efforts of Francesca Gurdon and Oliver Carr, as Madame and Monsieur Thenardier, their slapstick humour and extreme use of facial expressions bringing the house down, particularly with their hysterically choreographed dancing. From the final bows alone, you can see the effect these characters had on the audience as they were met with waves upon waves of applause and yelps of affections; the reaction itself is proof that Berkhamsted has never before seen a performance worthy of such an energetic response.
Now these were the primary roles, but that is not to say the show was their’s alone. The likes of Jonathon Peniket as the Bishop of Digne and Alex Heath as Enjolras particularly stand out through the charisma and sincerity they brought to their role. Heath’s death in particular, a long, drawn-out death that bordered on the comical, adding that extra dimension to an already playful, rebellious and lovable character, whose downfall functioned as the climax of the battle scene. Additionally, those without solos should not be left unacknowledged either; the scene with the prostitutes, the scene with the prisoners and the scene of the wedding are prime examples of the cohesive and united chemistry between every single actor. Without the seamlessness of the rest of the cast, both those on stage and those back-stage; without the utter expertise in improvisation of background acting, and without the clear enjoyment of what these performers were doing, the musical would not have been the jaw-dropping success it was.
It begs the questions; how did they change so quickly off-stage? How did the lights and set flow so cohesively? How was it that a group of 16 to 18 year olds pull off such a high-quality show?
The answers to these ponderings are probably simpler that you would think: it was the hard labour, devotion and complete commitment of Mr Curtis (a fantastic debut) and Ms Wylie that made this musical the sensation it was. From the artistic interpretations of the hauntingly beautiful ghostly soldiers in Marius’s rendition of ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’, to the clear, bold suicide of Javert, with a slow-motion fall giving the character the dramatic send-off he deserves, the creativity of the two directors could not have been more unique, and therefore effective. The fact that they were able to lay their hands on the right to perform, the costumes and the set- a rotating, multi-level barricade? Breath-taking- and it shows just how much faith they put into not only this production, but their students too, and the general consensus would conclude that they were not let down.
I cannot emphasise enough the professionalism of this musical; it has the quality of the West End, the cinematic class of the film, and the clear pleasure in every performer required to bring it to life. If I watched it again, would I change anything? Not a single thing.
Lastly, a massive congratulations to all involved; the process has been underway since before summer, and in weeks leading up to the show it took up the valuable time of every single member involved. Clearly, it was not a waste of such, and it truly will go down in Berkhamsted history, both inside the Drama department and out.
Original Student Image Used - Ellie Downs