16 September 2011

Les Miserables at the Queens Theatre

The run of excellent shows that I've been to recently had to end sometime and it ended with a thump with Les Miserables.

I had three credible reasons for going to see Les Miserables; the show had been running a long time with many good reviews, Matt Lucas was appearing in it for a while and I got an offer of cheap tickets through work.

So I went with reasonable, but modest, expectations of a good show delivered professionally. This is my default for any established west end show.

Some of that happened but a lot did not and the show at times disappointed or even amused because of its awfulness with very few highlights to compensate for the many weak points.

A musical needs a good score to carry it and I found nothing in Les Miserables to grab hold of and love.

The music was simply bland. I was not expecting Rodgers but I was hoping for at least one memorable tune and a few other pleasant ditties along the way but the music was so bland it was almost invisible for most of the show.

Sadly the same cannot be said of the lyrics. The librettist seemed determined to find the most obvious rhyme every time which gave it a childish predictability of the moon/spoon type and I started playing the "guess the rhyme" game to keep myself amused.

Neither the music nor the lyrics were helped by the singing which varied from average to poor.

This aspect of the show was particularly difficult to bear coming so soon after The Turn of the Screw at Glyndebourne where the singing had been sensational.

There were a couple of parts that were all right, such as the leader of the rebellion, but when Fantine died early on that was a relief.

A decent plot could have kept the evening together and covered over the cracks elsewhere but the story creaked too.

The problem with the story was that it wandered aimlessly and it was never clear what it was meant to be about. The main themes were Cosette's love story (she is the girl in the iconic poster), the long-running battle between Cosette's guardian (an ex-con) and his jailer, and the gap between the rich and the poor that lead to the Paris Uprising.

These themes fought for attention and it was not clear what the main story was until the end (even then it was something of a guess). The plots added nothing to each other and so one theme only detracted from the others. It was a bit like watching the ads rather than the main programme.

Added to that mix was an unnecessary and unexpected comedy line, which is where Matt Lucas comes in. At this point I had suspend all belief in whatever part of the story I was trying to follow at the time.

The compensation was that Matt Lucas was actually funny and he provided the one touch of class in the entire show. That a story featuring death, poverty and civil war was rescued by a touch of comedy speaks volumes for the rest of the show.

To be fair to the show, this is a minority view. When the show ended the Saga coach tourists stood and cheered wildly, even though they had probably seen it several times before, while I sat there head in hands trying to understand what had just happened to me.

I guess that if you have never seen great theatre or great opera then Les Miserables could appear to be a good show but I have and it wasn't.


  1. I saw Les Miserables 25 years ago in Melbourne. It was my second 'musical' and to this day it remains my joint favourite (along with Chicago which I also saw in Melbourne several years later in my late 20s). I was thinking it was time to experience it again - the rousing When Tomorrow Comes, the bawdy Master of the House, the poignant Bring Him Home - but after reading your post, I'm not so sure. Am I just another candidate for the Saga Coach Tour perhaps??

  2. Most people there did enjoy it and enjoyed it a lot, there was applause and cheering throughout, but it just did not engage with me. If you liked it 25 years ago then I think you'll like it again. The age of the audience was a concern (I much prefer any sort of theatre that is full of young people) but that may have been my fault for sitting in the cheap seats upstairs.


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