Northampton Musical Theatre Company’s brand new Youth Society make their debut with the classic Les Misérables at Cripps Hall Theatre.
I think you’ll agree most musical fanatics have a special place for ‘Les Misérables’ in their hearts as the longest-running musical in the West End – a musical by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubli. The perfect musical score to belt in the car and sob (and sob a little bit more). An equally heart-warming and heart-breaking piece of musical theatre set in early 19th-century France, coinciding with the events of the bloody French Revolution. This was Northampton Musical Theatre Company’s (NMTC) Youth Society’s first public performance, having formed their youth division just last year, directed by Katy Batchelor and with musical direction by Rod Iliffe. An ambitious choice for their first musical, with a score that tests even the most seasoned actor but regardless of the performer’s age they certainly put on a production to be proud of. They ‘Dreamed a dream’ and that dream came true…
The musical follows Jean Valjean (Oscar Powell) having just completed his 19 year sentence in prison, prosecuted for stealing a mere loaf of bread. The plot follows his quest to form a new identity, one as far away as possible from his former branding of prisoner ‘24601’. Powell’s Valjean was compelling and extremely likeable, he had such a warm and gentle presence while holding his own with the extensive vocal range required of the character. His tenderness contrasted perfectly with the rigidity of the prison guard and antagonist Javert (Isaac Gavin) who adopted a real power in his voice and physicality.
The often heart wrenching plot was approached with sensitivity and truthfulness, particularly admirable for this younger cast. Hannah Jarvis beautifully portrayed the physical and emotional deterioration of Fantine, you empathise for a woman whose only real longing is to care for her daughter and ultimately sacrifices her life to do this. The relationship formed between Vajean and Fantine held a great amount of care and tenderness. An equally loving relationship was later mirrored between Vajean and Fantine’s daughter ‘Cosette’. Lily-Grace Tofte’s Young Cosette pulled right on the old heart strings, with her pitch-perfect rendition of ‘Castle on a Cloud’ being a stand out moment.
The darker moments contrasted well with the comic relief brought by the eccentric innkeeper Thenardier and his wife (although she perhaps rather she wasn’t!) Madam Thenardier. Matthew Broome and Thendo-Lindani Ndou both brought such energy to the stage – their use of movement and voice were bold and the comic timing was well developed. Thenardier referring to his darling ‘Courgette’ particularly tickled me. The ensemble succeeded in matching this dynamic duo’s energy in numbers such as ‘Master of the House’.
As we move through the musical we are transported to our new setting of Paris, a city in a state of desperation and violence. We are introduced to Marius (Samuel Pickles), a law student, who is a member of a radical group of students, led by Enjorlas (Ben Mineards), who plan to upturn the French monarchy and fight for their freedom. Mineards’s Enjorlas’ demanded the stage and his vocal control was impeccable. We are at this point also acquainted with Eponine (Megan Timlin), a character who wrote the definition of ‘friend-zoned’. She epitomises the devastation of unrequited love, putting Marius’ happiness well above hers by aiding his pursuit of love for the now grown up Cosette (Freya Gidney). Megan Timlin’s voice was a joy to listen to, ‘On My Own’ was simply effortless (I had goose bumps) – definitely a star in the making. Another star that warmed the hearts of the audience was Riley Aldred as Gavroche. Aldred embodied the courageous, cheeky chappy- proving that ‘little people’ can still be heroes too.
Katy Batchelor as a director was not afraid to use silence and stillness, which is bold considering the already extensive length of the musical. But by not rushing and allowing for these moments of pause it felt true to the raw, emotional honesty of the story. The image of the bodies sprawled over the barricade after a violent attack was particularly poignant; the silence that accompanied was encaptivating. Another extremely powerful image followed this during ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’, with a broken Marius hunched over and wrapped in a blanket while the deceased members of the revolt stood behind in ghostly stillness.
The musical required a lot from the performers – principals and chorus alike. The ensemble brought power and intensity to the group numbers, ‘One Day More’ filled the whole theatre. The use of choreography was simple but slick and full of character. The use of set was again simple and there were a few moments that perhaps would have been aided with more props. Les Mis, with only a few lines of spoken dialogue, requires stamina, vocal range and an excellent musical ear – often the actors are guided by little or no musical accompaniment and this overall did not faze the company. I think the use of live strings as opposed to synthesised strings would have been less jarring against the voices of the actors, as at times it did not do the beautiful score justice.
Overall, NMTC’s Youth Society put on a show to be remembered – the standing ovation was truly deserved.
Performance: Saturday 12 May 2018 Matinee, Cripps Hall Theatre, Northampton.
Megan is an actor-musician originally from Northampton. She is a recent graduate of Surrey-based theatre company Peer Productions. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, watching live theatre, going to gigs and befriending dogs.