To stage a school production of the iconic Les Misérables is daunting, to do this in a historic Tudor room and solely in French, with a number of students who are not studying the language, even more so! However, thanks to an innovative approach to production, performance and setting, the MFL Department staging of this powerful, emotive story proved an incredible success as the talented cast brought Victor Hugo’s original story vividly to life and did, indeed, prove to be unequivocal masters of the house.
For a historic tale of French revolution – a time of loss and poverty, power and corruption – the atmospheric Big School provided the perfect setting: haunting shadows, creaking floorboards, evocative notes, moody lighting. Intimate in feel, with the actors in close proximity to the audience, the fluency and enunciation of the French script impressed throughout; to convey such emotion and nuance in French – whether through dialogue or the medium of song – was to the great credit of the committed cast.
From the opening scene, the black-and-white, vintage-style film reel of Jean Valjean stealing a loaf in the cobbled streets of Guildford, the student-led production maintained the cohesion of the plot by balancing the key songs from the hit musical with brief dramatic vignettes, cleverly knitted together by Freddie Andrews as the Narrator.
Alex Judge epitomised both the strength and tenderness of Jean Valjean setting the tone for a number of stand-out solo performances as he opened with Do you hear the people sing?.
Familiar tracks were made all the poignant by being delivered in French: Oscar Ford as the benevolent bishop impressed; Aaron Venter proved suitably vulnerable and yet strong and defiant as the hapless Fantine, with I dreamed a dream capturing perfectly the despair and isolation of the character; while Freddy Masefield’s touching rendition of Castle on a cloud encapsulated the sweet, naïve innocence of Cosette. In contrast, the high-tempo, ebullient Master of the House scene absolutely captured the necessary energy and exuberance with James Nicholas as Monsieur Thénardier the crooked innkeeper sparkling alongside the convincing Parus Mehra (as his wife). As the story reached its climax, Luke Galpin was particularly effective as Inspecteur Javert capturing the ruthless inflexibility of a man who obstinately adheres to authority and obedience to the law: his rendition of Javert’s suicide was incredibly powerful and stirring.
This exceptional cast, under the direction of Monsieur Marchiafava, Miss Wild and Miss Hamonic, delivered plenty of passion, engaging performances and rousing, heartfelt vocals that – with the proximity of the audience – fully immersed each individual in the experience and proved to be a memorable and powerful production. A true classic indeed. Nay, a tour de force. Bravo!