In an incendiary interview with the Daily Telegraph, the veteran director claims that he, his co-director John Caird and designer John Napier, were “kept in the dark” by producer Cameron Mackintosh regarding the re-staged version, which premiered in Cardiff last December.
“It is not a new production. It is a variant production that owes everything that’s good about it to the original production. And everything that’s not so good about it, and is uncomfortable about it, is the work of a group of assistants. Do you gather that there is some unhappiness here?” Nunn told the Telegraph's Jasper Rees.
The main alteration to the anniversary production is that it doesn't require the famous revolving stage. In the interview, published yesterday, Nunn claims that he, Caird and Napier would have “joyously” accepted the challenge of finding “slightly different solutions staging-wise”.
Instead, Mackintosh asked James Powell and Laurence Connor to direct the anniversary production. Powell originally joined Les Mis as a cast member, before becoming a resident director on the show and overseeing its move from the Palace Theatre to its current home the Queen's in 2004. Connor also started out as a cast member before moving into directing, with credits including a re-staged touring version of Miss Saigon.
Nunn goes on, “There is no point in beating about the bush. We are profoundly unhappy and we feel profoundly betrayed and we don’t understand. We seek a meeting. We are not given any explanation. What’s so extraordinary is that, in the year when the 25th anniversary of the original production is being celebrated, the same logo and the same strapline is being used for the new production. So we are also very confused.
“It’s completely bewildering. And the most bewildering thing – and this is not vanity or hubris – is why something inferior has been created when something superior could have been created.”
Cameron Mackintosh's full response to his long-time collaborator's criticisms has been acquired by Whatsonstage.com. It reads: “I am saddened by Trevor's inaccurate and ungracious remarks. I am very proud of the 1985 production that I invited Trevor to direct with John Caird. That Les Mis has become an enduring classic around the world is a testament to the work that Trevor and John did as adaptors and directors.
“However, after 25 years, I wished to create a new production that reflected the contemporary appeal of the musical today and it seemed right to engage the energies of a new younger team to do this. I believe that each new generation has to be able to put its own stamp on great material.
“Over 18 months ago and at every subsequent stage we informed Trevor and John Caird and John Napier of our plans. It is wholly untrue that they were in any way 'kept in the dark'. It is bewildering to me that Trevor Nunn who has spent much of his brilliant career reimagining existing material should be questioning the right of others to do so with Les Miserables.”
The row comes as the world's longest-running musical gears up not just for the Barbican return (where it started life as an RSC production in 1985), but also a star-studded anniversary concert at the O2 arena (See News, 2 Jun 2010).
Based on Victor Hugo's classic humanitarian novel set in 19th-century revolutionary France, Les Miserables has a book by Alain Boublil, music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. On its 21st birthday in 2006, it surpassed Cats as the West End’s longest-running musical. Globally, it has been seen by over 55 million people in 40 countries and 21 languages.