REVIEW: Les Misérables, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until November 23.
It really doesn’t matter how often you see it. Les Mis loses never loses any of its astonishing impact, its visceral grab which takes you on the most remarkable of journeys.
How fantastic it is to have it back in Southampton – and with a cast which does full justice to an outstanding modern classic. The audience rose as one at the end… and was absolutely right to do so.
As ever, the staging is superbly done. You can’t help but marvel at the speed with which we are taken from bishop’s humble home to bawdy inn, from factory to sewer, from death bed to barricade on a night which sees revolutionary hopes rise before being brutally shattered.
Threading through it all, of course, is the cat-and-mouse Javert-Valjean pursuit. Nic Greenshields as Javert and Killian Donnelly as Jean Valjean ensure that it is as rich and as captivating as ever, a terrific study of two deeply contrasting men.
Greenshields’ Javert is black and white in his conviction that the law is unchallengeable with no concessions or compromises possible. His obsession drives him… but it also breaks him when Valjean shows him that shades of grey are the only possible way to live.
Donnelly’s Valjean is a man forced into crime by direst necessity, but when a kindly bishop shows him unexpected grace, Valjean takes his chance to reshape his life for the better.
In the end, Valjean’s compassion breaks Javert’s absolutism – and the clash is beautifully done.
Elsewhere, Katie Hall is an entrancing, achingly vulnerable Fantine; Martin Ball adds plenty of humour as the lecherous, grasping inn-keeper Thénardier; and Sophie-Louise Dann is suitably awful (and this is intended as a compliment) as Thénardier's comically ghastly wife.
Meanwhile, Harry Apps as Marius and Bronwen Hanson as Cosette are inching their way – through the bloodshed and heartbreak – towards a better future bathed in Valjean’s humanity.
It’s difficult to think of any musical which packs a bigger punch than Les Mis – nor any musical which so quickly leaves you wanting to see it again.