Theatre Review: Les Misérables - QPAC's Lyric Theatre (Performance until January 17th)

Over the past year, QPAC’s Lyric Theatre has been transformed into the African Savannah, the merry old land of Oz, a 1930s luxury liner, and the venue of the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship. Now, in the final major production of 2015, audiences are transported to the streets of nineteenth century Paris, for the 30th anniversary tour of Cameron Mackintosh’s Les Misérables.

Adapted in 1985 from Victor Hugo’s 1862 epic, Les Misérables has been wowing audiences around the world for years. Framed by the story of Jean Valjean, a prisoner who skips parole, and the indefatigable Inspector Javert, the officer who pursues him relentlessly over the years, we are taken from the harshness of the prison hulks, to the sweatshop like conditions of nineteenth century factories, to a starving Paris, eventually meeting with a group of impassioned youths trying to change the world for the better. It is a story of redemption and revenge, of love and loss, and if leafing through the veritable tome that is Hugo’s original work doesn’t appeal to you, maybe the musical, lighter on the details, though not on the heartache, will.

Les Misérables, as an entirely sung musical, with little to no spoken lines, relies on the strength of its performers, and leading the charge were Simon Gleeson as Jean Valjean and Hayden Tee as Javert. Tee’s performance in particular struck a chord; as my friend said in the interval, “I just cried at Stars. I NEVER cry at Stars,”

But for me, as always with any version Les Misérables, musical or otherwise, it all rested on Eponine. The very epitome of the person the Friends of the ABC are fighting for, with a story of unrequited love many of us can relate to, Eponine has some of the most heart breaking moments in the whole show. The role is performed incredibly by Kerrie Anne Greenland, in her professional musical theatre debut, with her renditions of On My Own and A Little Fall of Rain (with Euan Doidge as Marius) leaving theatre goers all around me reaching for the tissues.

The ensemble cast also deserve a very honourable mention, switching between many characters (and many elaborate costumes!) from scene to scene, fleshing out key moments and giving their all during every song. From the red light district by the docks, to the tragedy of the barricade, the group were fantastic, giving insight and personality to every one of the various characters they played - whether they had a name or otherwise.

If there is one low point, though perhaps not one shared by the people around me in the theatre if their reactions were anything to go by, it was in Trevor Ashley and Lara Mulcahy’s performances as the Thénardiers. Imagined, I’m sure, as a welcome break from the trials and tribulations that make up the majority of the storyline, they are too brash and obvious in their delivery, with one knowing wink towards the audience too many, and an attempt at Cockney accents that edge towards the unintelligible at times. Of course, the audience is not supposed to root for these cruel, crude people, nor is Les Misérables in its entirety a particularly subtle piece, but the Thénardiers’ scenes are just too much of a contrast to the bleakness of the rest of the work and are too obviously designed to get laughs.

A final nod of approval must go to the set design, as the performance space is visually stunning, filled with clever transitions between scenes. From the opening sequence aboard the prison hulk that Valjean has called home for the last two decades, to the closed in, crowded Parisian streets, to the famous barricade, the sets are beautiful, as much a part of the performance as the actors. Those in the first few rows of the stalls, be prepared to feel as though you’re on the barricade yourself. The backdrops, including those used during the sewer scenes, are taken directly from paintings by Victor Hugo, a lovely nod to the author of the original work.

Brisbane marks the final stop on the Australian run of Les Misérables, and has extended its stay at QPAC until January 17th. If you do make it to see this rousing production of the world’s longest running musical, make sure you bring your tissues - you’re going to need them!