MUSICAL Les Miserables
Edhﬂnugh Pbyhouse,unUlSat12 Dec *i‘k
Here it comes again, the skyscraper- stomping Godzilla of musicals - more lavish than Lloyd Webber; more gutsy than Gershwin. Or so the hype would have you believe.
Make no mistake: this is a highly impressive show. From the designer squalor of the costumes to the mighty mechanics that rotate the gargantuan set seamlessly from one scene to the next; from the swelling score to the glorious lighting, it's an experience that absorbs and frequently enchants.
The trouble is that — as is often the case with high-tech musicals — the staging excites the audience more than the performers. It's not that the cast deserve to be neglected. The principals are fine-voiced and potent — with Jeff Leyton as Valjean, Peter Coory's Javert, Carmen Cusack's Fantine and Alex Sharpe's Eponine particularly strong; while the young and vigorous chorus of almost 40 conspires to create a human backdrop that looks like the whole social panoply of 19th century France.
The revolving stage is the centrepiece of the
i ' ,i ‘ ‘
‘ production, and is not employed gratuitously. Instead of
just swinging in a new set for each scene, it allows certain episodes to be viewed from varying perspectives — most memorably during the barricade scenes during
1 the civil insurrection at the story's climax.
But some of the most effective moments of staging are much simpler. When the hero Valjean escapes the barricade with his wounded protegé Marius, their journey through the sewers is suggested with square pools of light. It's the sort of basic theatricality you'd expect from a competent fringe company - and it works beautifully. But to a large degree,Les Misérables'
The peasants are revolving: Les Miserables
structure and shape are dictated by computerised technology, and that writes the show at least partly in stone, inhibiting the spontaneity that makes live performance more exciting than recorded media.
But the show also has a more serious and basic flaw: many of the lyrics are simply unintelligible. The singers’ diction is crisp and clear in the solos and recitatives; but the translated dialogue is dense and convoluted, and 40% of the choral singing is blurred beyond comprehension. The gist is easy enough to grasp, but nuance is rarely communicated.
And ultimately it’s this that prevents Les Miserables from seizing the heartstrings as fiercely as it intends - though the story rivals Dickens for scope, resonance and sentimentality. As a semi-live spectacle. it's an exhilarating night out. As theatre, however. it's surprisingly uninvolving, leaving much of the house dry- eyed. (Andrew Burnet)
SOCIAL DRAMA Men Should Weep
Glasgow: Citizens’ Theatre, until Sat 17 Oct at s stir
‘A brief moment of joy for Barbara Rafferty and Matthew Costello as the central couple in Men Should Weep
The Citizens' Theatre really is an extraordinary place — an enveloping palace of garish colours, flamboyant camp and zany artistic frontiersmanship, just yards away from one of Scotland’s greyest residential districts. The Gorbals is no longer the midden of poverty and disease it once was; nor is it directly mentioned in Ena Lamont Stewart's modern classic, first produced in 1947. But it’s a mark of artistic director Giles Havergal's sense of locale and of the Citizens’ social role that he has programmed this play among the Pinter, Seneca and Mamet that make up the rest of this season.
Set in the grim Glasgow tenements of the 305, Men Should Weep centres on the Morrison household: intelligent but unemployed father John, his demanding mother, his seven hungry children, and above all his overworked wife Maggie, a woman worn raw by the multi-faceted grinding wheel of poverty. Peripheral characters include the spiteful Isa, wife of the Morrisons' shiftless eldest son Alec and Sundry neighbours, whose function varies from Job’s comforters to companions in adversity.
Plotlines include the breakdown of Alec and Isa’s marriage, the varying fortunes of John’s working life and the
unending worry over consumptive wee Bertie's health; but shrouding the whole tale is the stifling, musty blanket of poverty and fatigue.
This flawless production by Havergal — who previously directed the play for 7:84 Theatre Company in 1983 — stylises the action, discarding both television naturalism and mawkish sentimentality. Young children are unashamedly played by adults, and cast members assume and drop characters simply by entering or leaving the diamond-shaped central playing area.
Meanwhile, Lamont Stewart's agile script keeps the comedy flowing alongside the social commentary, providing humour and angst in almost equal balance. And it’s here, really, that the play has its main flaw. While individual scenes carry a certain momentum, there’s no over-riding dramatic drive to compel the plot to a Climax.
There are strong performances all round — especially from Barbara Rafferty and Matthew Costello as the often exasperated loving couple doomed to cope with bitter circumstances — but the lack of resolution gives the play something of. the unfinished sense of a soap opera. (Andrew Burnet)
Henry And The Seahorse H...
Soren Skjold's play was given its British premiere at the Scottish International Children’s Festival in 1997 by Danish company Teatergruppen Mairehonen. It now gets its first outing by a UK company in this Visible Fictions production, directed by Douglas Irvine.
Using a simple but imaginative set, the two performers tell the story of Henry, a mischievous young boy who finds himself in trouble again when his folks discover burnt matches in the shed. Accusations fly, and feeling unloved and misunderstood, Henry decides to run away with his faithful canine companion in tow.
Cue adults playing the parts of children, an act which is not easily convincing. Nonetheless Clare Knight and Harry Ward put in a good effort. The portrayal of Henry's dog is a definite crowd-pleaser, and deservedly gets the biggest laughs.
Original music and songs are plentiful, although at times these are more at home in an am-dram musical — so it comes as no surprise that the young audience’s attention drifts during some of the harmonising duets.
The play's central themes — sibling rivalry, parent/child relationships and the need to forgive — are all explored in some depth. But when a family friend embarks on a rambling monologue about how she lost her husband in the ravages of war, it seems a little out of place and not easily digestible by an audience of five to eight-year-olds.
There are, however, many heart- warming and funny moments, and whilst not the overall hit that The Red Balloon — the previous production for children by Visible Fictions — proved to be, this is still yet another delightful show. (Helen Monaghan)
I Seen at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. For tour dates, see Kids listings, pages 87—88.
Hang-ups about parents: Clare Knight and Harry Ward in Visible Fictions' production of Henry And The Seahorse
STAR RATINGS ***** Unmissable t * a: it Very good *ir‘k Won a shot 1» * Below average * You've been warned
8—22 Oct I998 THE UST 65