Two years ago, Bradley Jaden was preparing to return to the role of Enjolras in the West End as part of a starry concert experience: while Les Misérables' customary home, now the Sondheim, was getting a swish revamp.
Twenty four months on, he's still attached to the show – but rather than playing the upstart student, he's sporting the weighty coat of haunted inspector Javert. Having been able to spend two months playing the role in the rejigged Sondheim run in January, he's now singing some of the musical's most iconic numbers in a socially distanced concert setting. What does Jaden think about his two years attached to the show?
"It's bizarre even hearing it", he explained over Zoom from the theatre foyer. "As an actor we have dreams and aspirations, things we'd like to achieve. My dream was always to be in the ensemble of Les Mis, and I was fortunate in that that happened seven or eight years ago. My career has been developing since then – but sometimes I never really understand how it's all happening. When Sir Cameron asked me to be a part of this, there was nothing I could say apart from yes."
How does it feel being back, when audiences have been deprived of live performance for so long? "There's a lot of pressure, but after the 15 months we've had the elation is indescribable. It's been an incredible, intense time so far – from staggered rehearsals to try and keep numbers safe right the way through the opening night. The company has been incredible: I'm beyond honoured to be a small part of the incredible team."
Jaden returned briefly to the part of Enjolras in December, for the musical's shortlived attempt to open with social distancing while London was at the mercy of the (now retired) Covid restriction tier system. "I was extremely grateful to be able to do those ten shows. In the back of my mind I always knew each of those days was a bit of a blessing. You wanted to give it more than you ever had. When we closed down, I won't lie, I cried a lot – we were very tight as a company. Some had dropped out of other jobs in order to do the concert, their passion. But it just shows the resilience of our industry that we're back, doing it again. The industry needs Les Mis to breathe again."
Now Jaden's back, dosing out massive renditions of numbers such as "Stars" and "The Confrontation". Is his Javert different to when he had the role in early 2020? "This is a completely different entity – it's difficult now not being able to eyeball each other, singing into each other's faces. That completely changes your characterisation. I'm learning new things about Javert: I've read the book about four times now and each time focus on a new character. In any kind of role you grow and mature: this last year has definitely opened up fresh ideas in terms of playing the role."
It all sounds as though it's a deeply emotional ride for the actor, who has also appeared in the likes of Wicked and Ghost the Musical: "Hearing the full band – the tears just stream. Hearing new versions of songs like Lucie's [Jones, taking on the role of Fantine] take on "I Dreamed a Dream", or the company singing "One Day More" from behind me – it all makes the hairs on my neck stand up."
Les MIsérables continues its socially distanced run into September.