20 August 1997
* * * *
Red Shift Theatre Company's
self-imposed task of bringing classics of European literature
to the stage, which has previously led to its Death in Venice
and Crime and Punishment, has here issued an excellent and
meaty production of Victor Hugo's classic Les Miserables.
Those who know the work from the West End musical may miss
the breadth of evocation of a whole society that format gives;
Red Shift's six actors have to confine themselves to the stories
of the main characters.
But what they lose in spectacle they gain in intimacy. The story's
epic sweep is captured here by a box-like set on wheels which
is opened, closed and perpetually swirled around by the cast,
who also frame battle and a chase scene with accomplished percussion
playing. The facility of the six in interacting and swapping
from role to role is also a highly successful replacement for
what to the Victorians was Hugo's page-turning prose.
Clifford Barry is ideal as Valjean, Hugo's towering hero, the
classless peasant made bad made good, who spends the years from
1789 to 1832 fleeing the hand of the law and the end of an unjust
prison sentence, and trying to build a life of philanthropy.
Valjean and Inspector Javert, who pursues him down the years,
become twin symbols of France's conscience in the face of human
misery and despair on which its bourgeois prosperity floats:
Javert demands the rule of law and measure for measure to bring
the partnership of crime and poverty under control, while Valjean
seeks to stimulate the happiness of individuals by acts of kindness.
Barry gives heart and body to Hugo's creation, whose downfall
is the St Christopher-like size and strength which are always
being called upon to carry both children and adults to safety.
The other players supply villainy, wretchedness, innocence, love-interest
and humour in various forms.
A satisfying and skilled performance of a great classic by an
experienced and enterprising company - though it could use an
evening slot and a more intimate theatre.
20 August 1997
At the Fringe Club, Red Shift
continue their revivification begun with last year's Bartleby.
Victor Hugo's Les Miserables is a world away from big
musicals, as a cast of six concentrate on just telling the story.
It is a "poor theatre" production, in ethos if not
in resources, relying on skills of characterisation and often
ellipsing entire episodes into a couple of lines of dialogue
and a meaningful look. Once again, live music is used to telling
effect, and even the taped songs of The Pogues which play pre-show
and during the interval seem somehow to add to the underworld
22 - 28 August
Les Miserables * * * *
Just as Hollywood has ripped
the life-blood out of many a damn fine story, similar felonies
are commonplace in the West End. Here Red Shift strip all the
glam trappings from Hugo's 19th century masterpiece. Focusing
on the plight of ophan Cosette and reformed criminal Jean Valjean
on the run from jobsworth Inspector Javert, mankind is shown
in its brightest and most murky colours.
Played out on a rotating steel box and accompanied by live music
- but not song, the six-strong cast provide an honest and moving
account, giving power and immediacy to Hugo's timeless and univeral
themes of poverty and greed. Classless society, my arse. (Claire