Les Misérables by Pick Me Up Theatre

Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York

Till Sat Feb 27

£16

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There’s an amazing thing about Les Misérables. If done right, this story of misery, oppression, prostitution, starvation, beatings, injustice and longed-for death leaves audiences deliriously happy.

And Pick Me Up Theatre did it very right. To the extent that, come the curtain call, the audience rose to its feet to cheer the incredibly talented young cast to the rafters.

We were so enraptured that, if the principals had declared the start of the revolution right then and there, we would have been building barricades on Haxby Road before you could say ‘Victor Hugo’.

A lot of this comes from the music. Oh, those tunes, those tunes…

But they are not enough, as the 2012 movie showed. Somehow Hollywood managed to squeeze all the soul from Les Mis.

Anne Hathaway and co would have learned a lot about how to stage this most special of shows from the Pick Me Up production. Filled with emotional power, heart-rending performances, beautifully-paced direction by George Stagnell, and musical interpretations of both delicacy and energy, the show grabs you by the heart from first scene to last.

Usually at this point, a summary of the plot is helpful. But none of us has time for that. Save to say, it is set in 19th century revolutionary France, and involves complex love stories, intergenerational heroics, filthy aristocrats and pure-hearted street dwellers.

Man the barricades… Photograph: Matthew Kitchen Photography
Man the barricades… Photograph: Matthew Kitchen Photography

The cast is astonishing. York is fortunate to have a pool of talent so deep.

The show succeeds or fails on the performances of Jean Valjean and his nemesis, the authoritarian Javert. Sam Hird shoulders the burden with the same apparent ease as his character Valjean shoulders a cart in a pivotal scene, playing the hero with strength and sensitivity. Connor Mellor brings tortured nobility to the rule-bound Javert.

Hannah Richardson plucks at the heartstrings as Eponine, leaving us rooting for her doomed love for Marius, played with candid tenderness by Scott Goncalves. Marin Fageras Naevdal puts herself and the audience through the wringer as the tragic Fantine, while the virtue of Cosette’s spirit shines through Holly Surtees-Smith’s performance.

Holly Surtees-Smith as the older Cosette. Photograph: Matthew Kitchen Photography
Holly Surtees-Smith as the older Cosette. Photograph: Matthew Kitchen Photography

As implied earlier, the revolutionaries are an inspiring crew, spearheaded by Sam Lightfoot-Loftus as Enjolras, the leader you would follow from Calais to Marseille. Frankie Bounds plays street urchin Gavroche with Artful Dodger-like charm.

Assured comic turns are put in by Sam Baxter and Maya Bartley O’Dea as dastardly inn-keeper Thenardier and his wife, with Master Of The House a rambunctiously enjoyable set-piece reminiscent of the great moments from Oliver!

And the younger members of the cast, led by Emily Belcher and Ava Bounds as the young Cosette and Eponine, put in performances of assurance way beyond their years.

Masters indeed… Sam Baxter as Thenardier, Maya Bartley O'Dea as Madame Thenardier, with Emily Belcher as Little Cosette Photograph: Matthew Kitchen Photography
Masters indeed… Sam Baxter as Thenardier, Maya Bartley O’Dea as Madame Thenardier, with Emily Belcher as Little Cosette Photograph: Matthew Kitchen Photography
Get your tissues… Marius (Scott Goncalves) comforts Eponine (Hannah Richardson) Photograph: Matthew Kitchen Photography
Get your tissues… Marius (Scott Goncalves) comforts Eponine (Hannah Richardson) Photograph: Matthew Kitchen Photography

Knockout moments include I Dreamed A Dream, Do You Hear The People Sing, One Day More and On My Own.

Once again Adam Tomlinson and his orchestra do a brilliant job with an incredibly diverse and challenging score. And plaudits too to the evocative lighting design by Adam Moore, Robert Readman’s atmospheric and clever set, and a soundscape produced by Ian Thomson which took us from pin-drop to full-scale riot.

With terrific costumes and make-up, this was an all-round production of style, verve and flair. Go see it.