Skip to main content

Review of Les Misérables at Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes

The musical version of Victor Hugo's 1862 novel Les Misérables has been thrilling audiences for over 30 years, and in London is has run continuously since October 1985, so, it is safe to say that it comes to Milton Keynes Theatre on it's UK and Ireland tour will some pedigree. I don't need to sell the name to you, and I didn't need to sell it to myself, because despite never having seen the full version, it is still one of my favourite musicals, thanks to seeing two different School Edition productions and the 2012 film. However, how does this version, the 2009 reimagining of the original stage show stand up on this tour production?

After 19 years as a prisoner, Jean Valjean, imprisoned for stealing bread, is freed by Javert, the officer in charge of the prison workforce. After Valjean promptly breaks parole, he uses the profit from stolen silver to reinvent himself as a mayor and factory owner, but Javert vows to recapture Valjean and is on his trail across the years.

This sung-through musical, music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, with original book and lyrics by Alain Boublil is a remarkable show, with an often incredible series of seamless songs. As such a remarkable show requires, this needs a marvellous cast, and director Laurence Connor and James Powell have just that.

Key of course to Les Misérables is the role of prisoner Jean Valjean, and in Killian Donnelly, there is an amazingly emotional performance, from the trodden upon prisoner to the refined and kindly mayor, and to his latter days, over the course of three hours, Donnelly gives us a full life story of one man, with incredible power. He has an amazing singing voice which holds up to all the challenges of this soundtrack and you feel his pain throughout, it is an extremely impressive accomplishment.

Elsewhere, Katie Hall keeps the performance of total raw emotion as Fantine, her singing of the classic I Dreamed A Dream is one of the highlights of the evening and her work with Donnelly I suspect also leaves few eyes dry in the house.

The perfect balance against the sad moments is provided to Thénardier and Madame Thénardier played with relish by Martin Ball and Sophie-Louise Dann, and they and all of us are having great fun during the iconic Master of the House routine, so busily produced visually that you are guaranteed to be missing a great little comic moment while watching another one.

Joseph Sheppard is a quite brilliant Gavroche, with his bounce and enthusiasm catching on totally with the audience, he creates this quite brilliant character in itself in a superb way and steals each scene he is part of.

Tegan Bannister and Bronwen Hanson both give subtle performances as Eponine and Cosette respectively battling for the heart of Marius (Shane O'Riordan). Bannister is especially good in the act two opening solo of On My Own, powerfully and emotionally charged performance.

A final mention of the cast must go to the incredible Nic Greenshields as Valjean's pursuant Javert. His frame embodies the role, and the authority of his performance is perfect. There is also a no better moment in the entire show than his quite staggering rendition of Stars. Spine-tingling as a song on its own, here, it has never been sung better and rightfully gets the longest applause of the evening. Simply stunning.

Staging in this production is of the new 2009 version, revolve, still present in the London production, for now, is removed, and here quick set and fluid changes are the order of the day and some quite brilliant use of projections based upon Victor Hugo's original paintings. Some of these animate to extremely clever effect, especially with sewer work and a key Javert scene.

The music is provided by the 14-strong orchestra under the direction of Ben Atkinson, and the bold numbers such as the superb At the End of the Day and Do You Hear the People Sing? are stunningly performed by the full company, filling the theatre with superb sound.

Les Misérables is an incredible piece of theatre, there is little doubt, its success over the decades has proven this, and here this excellent touring version keeps the standard at the top level. It's performed by an excellent cast across the board, and staged superbly, and provides a stunning evening. Tickets are admittedly quite expensive, so this has to be a consideration, however, it is extremely unlikely to be a disappointment, so is without question a special treat.

Lavish and gorgeous, sublime to listen to, this is theatre at its very best.

Performance reviewed: Friday 17th May 2019 at Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes.
Les Misérables runs at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 8th June 2019 before continuing its tour.
Further details about Milton Keynes Theatre can be found at

Photos: Michael Le Poer Trench/Johann Persson/Matthew Murphy/Helen Maybanks

Best Availability Monday to Thursday performances. Call the theatre’s dedicated Les Misérables booking line on 01908 547669 (open Monday to Saturday, 12 – 6pm) or visit: Check daily for returns and last-minute ticket releases.

Popular posts from this blog

Review of Blue/Orange at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The challenging and socially relevant Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall was published in 2000 and back then, this caustic exploration of mental health, and more specifically black mental health issues, was a tremendously relevant play. When it debuted on stage in London, the cast of just three was played by Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Director James Dacre doesn't have those names to play with so much in his cast, however here, he has worked with the writer himself to rework the play for a more modern audience. Does it still shock, and is the relevance still there today? Sadly, perhaps, the answer is yes, as doctors Bruce Flaherty and Robert Smith come to verbal blows over the health of patient Christopher, at times, you feel 21 years shed little light on how mental health is approached. Many references in the script, still sit unquestionably in the year 2000, however, with this reworking, one thing has changed dramatically. In the original version of the play, the two

Review of Sister Act by the Northampton Musical Theatre Company at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

South Pacific at Royal & Derngate last year set a remarkable benchmark for an "amateur" production, with a large talented cast, superb vocals, sets and a polish up there with a professional production. Sister Act, this years production from the Northampton Musical Theatre Company was more of the same, but perhaps taken up a notch or two. Sister Act is a musical based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg comedy and was first performed in 2009. Written by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, it is a likable and fun musical which genuinely came as a surprise to me. The opening scene at Curtis's Bar and Nightclub is to be honest not the best though and genuinely didn't fill me with much hope. It feels as if it gives nothing to the cast, although it creates the premise of the story coupled with the incident outside the bar. Likewise, I didn't take much to the Police Station scene either, so it didn't bode well. When we reach the Queen Of Angels Cathedral though, this show

Review of Shrek (NMTC) at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Three and a half years ago, in a land far far away, in a world very different to the one we are now in, I saw the touring professional production of Shrek The Musical , it was a mixed bag of quality, tilted extremely heavily in favour of one particular character (not the one you might expect) and not firing on all cylinders much of the time. One and a half years after my last visit to the Derngate theatre, I return to see the homegrown Northampton Musical Theatre Company's own take on the very same show. Would they be able to breathe more life into the show than the professionals did in that distant land? It is a bit of a yes and no really. Pretty much all of this is done to the best possible standard, and at times, with being an amateur show you could easily forget, they all have normal day jobs. The show oozes professional quality at times. The set looks magnificent, the costumes (from Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium) are superb, and as ever with NMTC, the backstage team c