Living with…Les Misérables…for a week

Musicals are like Marmite.

So they say.

The world is divided in to those that love them or hate them.

Personally, I’m more with comedian Bill Bailey on this who quips

Some of you may be fans of Mamma Mia. I’ve tried to like it. For me it was a bit like being smacked around the head by a piece of Ikea furniture. It hurts, but you’ve got to admire the workmanship.

les miserables

My relationship with musicals started late as they weren’t really part of my family’s world. Apart from The Jungle Book and The Aristocats and pantos musicals didn’t really figure until really in to my twenties. A friend of mine turned out to be a pretty decent baritone (or some tone anyway, don’t hold me to the exact scale!) and got himself in to the amateur dramatic scene. From a sense of loyalty I trooped along to Brigadoon, Kiss Me Kate and various other cultural numbers all performed in broad black country dialect. The Lambeth Walk always reminds me of Dudley for that reason…  While Brigadoon is of course tucked away somewhere between Stourbridge and Halesowen.

As my family started to try musicals our ignorance also started to show. At half time (sorry, the interval) in a performance of West Side Story, one of us asked the others This isn’t Grease, is it?  He was brought rapidly up to date for the second half so that he didn’t break out in to a rendition of You’re the One that I Want at the end.

So little by little my education continues under the watchful eye of M and P.  And this week was Les Misérables of which I confess I knew nothing before the film beyond Susan Boyle bawled out one of the numbers on BGT.

And now having had the Les Mis experience I come back to Bill Bailey’s words.

You’ve got to admire the workmanship even if sometimes it feels like you’re being hit around the head by a full-size French revolutionary barricade…

Les Misérables 
Les miserables rather sounds like a morbid medical condition.  Forget the slogan for the film Fight Hope Dream Love.  This is more like utter desolation, failed revolution, disillusionment, suicide and a rather long drawn-out death (or hang on, was that Blood Brothers?).  Obviously it does all end in a rousing chorus and some people fall in love so that’s OK but it is a pure emotional overload trip along the way. And none the worse for it.

I have nothing to compare with on stage but I was really drawn in by the characters, their singing and the story as it unfolded. Russell Crowe, I gather has attracted some flack, but I believed him as the zealous and self-righteous policeman, Javert.  Hugh Jackman was amazing as the hero Jan Valjean, and was so haggard at the beginning that I didn’t realise it was him until halfway through!

Stand-out for me though were the women – Ann Hathway’s performance of I dreamed a dream was always going to be scrutinised so she went for what you could never do on stage.  Severe close-up in all it’s imperfection with an intimate and pained rendition. And her hair does get chopped off for real so that has got to be real horror on her face.  But the real stand-out is the innkeeper’s daughter, Éponine, played by Samantha Barks who does move us to tears with her heartbreak as Cosette and Marius fall in love. She was brilliant although both M and I agree she has an impossibly thin waist.

With raw emotion smacking me around the head for two and a half hours I was grateful also for the comic interludes from innkeeper and wife, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. I’m not Baron Cohen’s biggest fan but he knows how to camp it up and their classic romp through their inn,  Master of the House, was a welcome break in the emotional storm. Helena Bonham Carter is still going for the record of appearing in every film that’s made in Britain. I’m sure if you look closely she’s dressed up as an octogenerian member of the orchestra in Quartet!

At the end I felt exhausted but glad I’d made the trip with Les Misérables . I guess this is opera for the modern age – plucking at every emotion that we have and leading us out in to the street afterwards humming epic tomes. The soundtrack for the film and an original cast version from the late 80’s have been playing in our house and car all week and we haven’t tired. So I recommend the film but some practical no81bob advise.

  • Stock up on coffee beforehand (it’s long)
  • Pack some tissues (seriously you won’t get through without at least one little dab)
  • Don’t expect to be in a fit state for much afterwards.

And my favourite Les Mis moment this week?  This flashmob of One Day More performed in a Warsaw shopping centre.


Vive la révolution?