To borrow a phrase from the musical’s smarmy and avaricious Innkeeper: “What a gem! What a pearl!”
Under the loyal and affectionate direction of Martin Allison, pupils at Cranleigh are enjoying the privilege of performing the world’s most famous musical ‘Les Misérables’. The play moves inexorably from the chain gang in Toulon in 1815 to the toxic sweep of revolution in the streets of Paris in 1832 and, consequently, the production needed a set design to match the epic scale of the musical’s journey. Mark Jenkins and his very talented technical team, with the help of Dave Wells and his team, have created a stunningly lit set that rivals the West End’s production – the moment the barricades arrived at the start of Act II is a memorably striking moment.
At the centre of the outstanding ensemble was Jamie Linford as the hunted Jean Valjean. Consistently dazzling, Jamie’s performance reached its zenith in the hauntingly beautiful and tear-inducing ‘Bring Him Home’. Jamie was matched by an equally talented antagonist; Daniel Pienaar’s portrayal of the troubled police officer, Javert, elicited sympathy from the audience with a convincing performance of his demise.
Bee Hardcastle and Libby Richards shared the role of the destitute and desperate Fantine. The girls are equally matched in talent, although Bee performed the role with a quietly angry dignity, whereas more overt fury infiltrated Libby’s performance of the distressed mother forced to degrade herself. Both girls sang ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ – arguably the musical’s most famous number – with tender desperation.
Cameron Scheijide was perfectly cast as the revolting and rapacious Thernadier, prompting both humour and repulsion in equal measure. Cameron was complemented by both Ella Batham-Read and Rosie Forster who shared the role of his similarly vile wife. Freddy Austin’s portrayal of the passionate Enjolras was very stirring indeed and his ardent performance was reinforced by the rest of the students whose dedication to their cause roused the audience. The bitter battle culminates in the death of the students: the sheer waste of life was beautifully captured by the slowly revolving barricade accompanied by a full but anguished variation of the theme from ‘God on High’ poignantly emphasising the futility of the insurrection.
Tom Chesterman and Christian Oldfield alternated the role of the loyal and love-sick Marius. Whilst Tom’s performance brought added bashfulness to the role, Christian portrayed Marius as more self-assured. Both boys sang ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ with equal bouts of sadness and guilt. Marius was supported by Beth Porter as the sheltered Cosette. Her stunning lament ‘In My Life’ elicited sympathy from the audience and the top C that finishes ‘A Heart Full of Love’ was flawlessly executed and rang through the auditorium. Abi Lord’s interpretation of the street-urchin Eponine resonated with a quiet sadness. Her performance of ‘On My Own’ was tinged with pain as she recalled the torment of unrequited love. Her beautiful duet with Marius in ‘A Little Fall Of Rain’ was another particularly moving moment.
Special mention should also go to Abby Frett and Arthur Handscomb. Abby sang sweetly as the lonely and abused child Cosette and Arthur injected humour into the role of Gavroche gaining immediate affection from the audience. This is, of course, all the more tragic when he dies on the barricades trying to steal ammunition from the opposition. The rousing rendition of ‘Do You Hear The People Sing?’ that closes the play was a welcome tonic for the audience in a play that is consumed by immense sorrow: a stunning end to a marvellous production.
Of course, the production would have been impossible without Cranleigh’s Music department. The cast sang with such determination, conviction and musical skill and this is a testimony to the hard work of musical director Marcus Pashley. He was, of course, supported during the show by the exceptional orchestra in part made up of Cranleigh Music staff and pupils. Cranleigh pupils are very fortunate indeed to be able to access such a vast bank of musical talent within the teaching staff.
Performing in ‘Les Misérables’ will undoubtedly take pride of place in the tapestry of memories retained by each Old Cranleighan as they move onto pastures new. Rightly so they will look back on this remarkable production with tremendous pride and affection.