Ensemble playing doesn’t always live up to its name but this predominantly young company works very well together. At the Press performance Christopher Jacobsen substituted for an indisposed John Owen Jones as Jean Valjean, the convict who finds his path to redemption a bitter one. Jacobsen both sings and acts well; his second-act “Bring him home” deserved its applause. As Javert, the police inspector whose distorted sense of the need for absolute justice makes him Valjean’s nemesis, Earl Carpenter brings experience as well as authority to the part. You’re not meant to actually like Javert, but it helps if you can understand him. Both his solos were finely delivered.
Our young hero is the aristocratic student Marius. Gareth Gates has the voice as well as the looks for the part. Jon Robyns and David Covey are also excellent as his co-revolutionaries. The underdogs, to whom the novel’s title refers, divide raggedly into those who have fallen into misfortune and those whoexploit it from within. Chief of the latter are the Thénardier couple – Lynne Williams all quivering bosoms and deliberately strident top notes as Madame and Ashley Artus with crisp enunciation and movement skills to match as Monsieur. “Master of the house” and “Beggars at the feast” proved show-stoppers.
Madalena Alberto is Fantine, whose death provides Valjean with his adopted daughter Cosette (Kate Hall). Both make their characters into real people and sing prettily, though Alberto sounded taxed by the vocal range of “I dreamed a dream”. The third main lyrical woman’s voice is that of the Thénardier daughter Éponine, who falls hopelessly in love with Marius. Rosalind James makes her pertly sympathetic. There are also two very good child performers in the cast – Alice Payne as the young Coestte, Cinderella-like as she skivvies for the Thénardiers, and Toby Prynne as the street urchin Gavroche.