Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

International Festival of Musical Theatre: Stanwell School, Penarth

Les Miserables: part International Festival of Musical Theatre in Cardiff, , Stanwell School, Penarth , October 14, 2002
Last night I experienced one of the most thrilling nights in the theatre for a very long time. But I’m not even sure I should be writing about it here, a web site dedicated to revues of professional theatre in Wales. This was a performance by school kids in a school hall, albeit a school hall with four hundred raked plush seats and technical stage facilities that would be the envy of some of our regional theatres.

My hands ached with clapping and my body was weak with the emotional wrenching of the story. As a part of The International Festival of Musical Theatre in Cardiff, I was at a wonderful performance of “Les Miserables” (Schools Edition) a musical by Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg at Stanwell School, Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan. The importance of the occasion being marked by the presence of Peter Karrie and Cameron Mackintosh, who had specially adapted and licensed this production.

But the centre of attraction was clearly on the stage with its finely executed, highly mobile and stunningly lit set. From its opening with quiet tension in the prison yard to its overwhelming hundred! voiced finale (accompanied by the 40 strong student orchestra) the story enfolded before us with an excellently well directed aesthetic that was totally captivating.

Some of the joy did come from seeing all these young people have such a marvellous time but no allowances for youth whatsoever need to be made to any of the leading players. They, and the ensemble at many times, achieving a frightening degree of professional excellence for such a youthful cast. They were obviously led by a staff directing team with a great deal of skill, commitment and understanding of what makes good theatre work. When, like this, GOOD THEATRE really works so well, questions of old or young, professional or amateur become irrelevant.

Gareth Richards was quite outstanding as Jean Val Jean, a mature looking sixth former who could walk on to the professional stage in this role tomorrow! His command of his singing voice, his strong, so convincing acting with his subtle ageing process demonstrating an understanding of the sensitivities of the art of acting well beyond his years. He was not alone; 12 year old Duke Lloyd embraced his role as the cocky Gavroche with such self-confidence and a glint in his eye that was, well ‘wicked!’

Quite remarkable, soon I shall be running out of adjectives, was the expertise and knowing of Lizzie Bennett and Sam Davies in the roles Thenardier and Mme Thenardier. As an hilarious pair of thieving knockabout comedians as you could want.

I am sure that it was only out of politeness that the audience held back their boos for the baddie, Javert played with a devastating gleam of eye by Richie Gooding. Two very different performances came from Rochelle Smith as a very delicate Cosette and Megan Boot, brave and sad as Eponine but they both sang with a very lovely clarity and simplicity of voice.

Their younger selves played by Junior school pupils Natalia Phillips and Christine Glyn gave extremely self possessed performances, showing not a hint of fear as they looked the four hundred strong audience in the eyes and sang out to them. Rebecca Lewis as Fantine precisely captured the “gaiety sobered by thoughtfulness” described by Victor Hugo in the original work. There were also a number of strong cameo roles well played by other members of the cast.

I have made no concessions in this revue using only the standards that I always apply. It really was that good! The chemistry was right on the night, I’m sure it will remain. The standing ovation given at the end was more than well deserved.

The International Festival of Music Theatre will bring many exciting music theatre events to Cardiff and yes! with a number of home grown elements. The Wales Millennium Centre opens in a couple of years time this could make Wales an International Centre of Lyric Theatre – Wonderful! Now that’s sorted can someone work on setting up a National or even a Cardiff Theatre for the presentation of classical and modern British and International Drama?

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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