“Who is this man, what sort of devil is he?”
An unscheduled visit back to this old stalwart for me as I took a friend’s last minute spare albeit with not just a little hesitation: the cult of Alfie Boe has not quite won me over yet… Les Misérables has been one of those shows that has present in my life for as long as I can remember really, having seen it countless times but my love for it had become a little comfortable, a little by rote, and so it was most lovely to have the truly fantastic 25th Anniversary touring production last year remind me just why I felt this way about the show, seeing it at the Barbican really was one of the highlights of my year. What was remarkable was that it played in conjunction with the West End production at the Queen’s so there were two versions running in London at the same time, all topped off with a pair of celebratory concerts at the O2.
Keen to keep the momentum going with this show and responding to how well-received the anniversary activity was, producer Cameron Mackintosh has instigated something of an overhaul to the West End production, hoping to transfer some of that energy and freshness by incorporating the new orchestrations, increasing the size of the orchestra back up to 14 and a cast change which brings back some familiar faces (in new roles) and also allowing some of the new faces – Alfie Boe, Matt Lucas – from the concert to play the roles for real this time.
I have gotten to the point now where I know what my reaction will be at any given point in the show: I get a little bored in the prologue, I get goose-bumps the moment the overture starts, I want to shove Cosette down the well etc etc. And so it necessitates something extraordinary to really challenge these pre-conceived notions of what I’m going to get from this show – something the Barbican managed – that wasn’t really in evidence here.
By and large everyone is strong: Matt Lucas and Katy Secombe make great Thénardiers with perhaps just a touch too much mugging to the audience; Hadley Fraser’s Javert is strongly-voiced and Caroline Sheen makes a compelling and compassionate Fantine. As I say every time I review this show, I am all about the supporting characters in so many of the classic musicals and so too here: Éponine and Enjolras are just so much more fun than the wet blankets of Cosette and Marius. Alexia Khadime is interesting casting as Éponine, I really like her but wasn’t entirely convinced that this was the best fit for her, but Liam Tamne is a stirring Enjolras. Lisa-Anne Wood and Craig Mather, both West End debutants, make decent fists of their roles but I don’t think I ever have anything positive to say about Cosette!
And once again I turn to Alfie Boe: I’m not entirely sure why he provokes such distaste in me, but he didn’t win me over here. In the concert version, one could excuse the lack of acting due to the format and also the fact that he hadn’t actually performed the role before. But he is midway through the run now and I couldn’t really discern what it was that people were getting so excited about – it felt like his every movement and utterance was whooped – he just doesn’t seem to be acting. He sounds excellent, his voice is well suited to the role, but for me that just isn’t enough. The cult of Alfie Boe lives strong here and distorts the curtain calls in an unforgivable way too, this is not a one man show by any stretch of the imagination.
Still, I did enjoy revisiting an old fave and it really does seem to be still riding on the success of the celebrations of last year, the theatre was packed and I haven’t seen many deals flying around for it, but it is still worth a visit for a dependably good night out.