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Film Review: Les Misérables

Posted on 13 December 2012 by Ryan Ahern

Les_Misérables_Movie

Boublil and Schonberg’s Les Misérables is one of the more epic pieces of musical theatre, and Tom Hooper’s film adaptation further proves this. This is Les Misérables on a grand scale, full of heart and soul.

It’s led by emotion and Hooper has absolutely kept this at the forefront of his adaptation. With the belief that the actors should sing and act live on set for each take, he has created understated and camera-real performances that beautifully mix the world of musical theatre and film to create something new; you find yourself watching a more exposed and open performance lacking the veneer that is often present on the stage (where pieces need to be bigger so that they are seen by the full audience). This is not a film that just has characters breaking out into song but rather melds the songs into its world so that it is much more believable for the viewer. (Lovers of the stage musical will however be surprised to find that dialogue has been added to the piece.) Hooper has created something that is visually stunning but also connects you to the very real emotion and human core of the piece.

Boublil and Schonberg’s score is, as ever, sumptuously beautiful and is further able to wrap around the viewer thanks to the visual delights that Hooper sets up. Avid fans of the musical will notice cuts and there have been some additions, including a new song for Valjean that is rather peculiar and doesn’t fit with the rest of the piece musically. However, this is a score that you are unable to escape and overall it can only pull you further into the characters’ world.

Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Valjean is simply astounding, and h is comfortable in both film and musical theatre. Jackman gives a masterclass in acting through song in this film and his Valjean can only be described as breathtaking. If Jackman doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination for this role then he has been cheated.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Eddie Redmayne’s Marius (an extremely strong performance that makes the character utterly lovable), Aaron Tveit’s Enjorlas (who is strong and resolute), George Blagden’s unbelievably charismatic Grantaire, Sacha Baron Cohen’s hilarious Thénardier, Daniel Huttlestone’s scene-stealing Gavroche, and I was very pleasantly surprised by Anne Hathaway’s Fantine (‘I Dreamed A Dream’ is heart-breaking and beautifully performed). All together, this is a strong cast and it is so lovely to see many West End performers pop up throughout (as well as original cast members Colm Wilkinson and Frances Ruffelle).

The all-star casting did unfortunately have its negatives, with Russell Crowe portraying a stoic and unemotive Javert. There is so much to be played from Javert and Valjean’s relationship, and with Jackman giving such an incredible performance it’s a shame to see some of it wasted on the pairing with Crowe, whose face seems to hardly move in the film. Vocals and technique can be forgiven in this film, as often the acting is so emotive, but Crowe seems to neither fully commit himself to the acting or to be able to sing the role. It’s a shame but, luckily, it is very easy to forget his performance with so much else going on.

I was also sad to see the character of Eponine, played by Samantha Barks, slightly fade into the background in this adaptation. Barks did a good job with the role, having played it in both the West End cast and in the 25th Anniversary production at the O2, but unfortunately it was far to easy to forget her and her storyline.

This adaptation brings Boublil and Schonberg’s Les Misérables to a more mainstream sphere, and it does so beautifully. With stunning visuals, several superb performances and scenes that are guaranteed to melt a heart of ice, Tom Hooper has created something very special.

Les Misérables will be released in UK cinemas on the 11January, 2013. For more information, see the official Les Miserable movie website.

 

Ryan Ahern

Ryan Ahern

Ryan trained as an actor at Central School of Speech and Drama and writes for AYT and The Stage. Although mainly an actor, Ryan also works as a director and in musical theatre and dance. He writes about politics, young people in the arts and has recently turned his hand to fiction.

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Climbing Arthur’s Seat: Keep Calm and Rush On

Posted on 17 July 2012 by Rush Theatre

BEFORE

Written by director and cast member Chi-San Howard

Amongst my friends and acquaintances I am known for some distinct character traits: a seriously loud mouth, a sense of humour rooted firmly in the gutter and a worrying obsession with cheese. But most importantly, I am known for being deeply laid back: I don’t panic, I don’t screech, I don’t walk out. I have diffused and/or broken up a fair few fights. If I weren’t so hyperactive and excitable I’d be the Dalai Lama. Especially as I feel that red is my colour.

During the week leading up to the preview, my pretensions towards the title of “Her Sereneness” were duly tested. Quite frankly we weren’t ready. As I said before, moving from the passenger to the driving seat has been a ridiculous learning curve and never more so than in this past week. As our brains stuttered and time (like something out of a Dr Who plot line)  folded in on itself, frustrations flared. That shit pile I spoke of? Edged ever closer towards the fan. After one particularly difficult rehearsal and a duly depressing train journey home, my inner Medusa reared its serpentine head. If looks and text messages could kill…

And yet. Now and again, one of those deeply irritating sayings that your mother spouts in times of crisis becomes even more deeply irritating as it proves itself to be true: things look better in the morning. Your excellent cast pulls together, you create a new game plan, you remember to look at the bigger picture and see how best to put things together. Time was still collapsing down to the opening of house, but it was a slightly more controlled collapse. Losing your head never works, one must keep calm and carry on. Dalai Lama I am not… but post-preview I’m channeling my inner Churchill – and anyways, bowler hats are so my thing.

AFTER

Written by producer and cast member Francesca Murray-Fuentes

Without detailing the highs and lows of our preview on Saturday night, we made a profit, putting some much-welcomed dollar in momma’s pocket, and played to an audience double the capacity of our Edinburgh space.

What we did learn is that, even when your vision is impaired from all the proverbial excrement hitting the fan, don’t lose sight of the people around you who are trying to help. In this industry there will always be someone who knows how to fix ‘it’, so make sure you befriend them immediately. Our preview technician rose up like an A/V cable-wielding Patronus into our midst of theatrical anarchy, and ensured that the preview went as smoothly as it possibly could.

That age-old Fringe adage that word of mouth sells tickets rings true, and while up in Edinburgh it will certainly be Rush’s mantra. Your venue’s FOH and the Fringe Box Office staff will be one of your strongest marketing tools – so unless you enjoy burning money, ensure you are on the best of terms with them (bribery is duly encouraged).

What it made overwhelmingly clear to us is that the most important (and yet resolutely forgotten) thing is this: despite the multitude of tears, tantrums, sleepless nights, seemingly soluble currency and possible reputation bungee jumps, what you’re doing is just a play. At crunch time, none of the above matter, only that you throw yourself into the performance like it’s a Jacuzzi with an expectant Eddie Redmayne in it. If it goes brilliantly, the sense of vindication becomes an addictive drug. If it belly-flops like my attempt at getting Eddie Redmayne in a Jacuzzi, you need to pick yourself up and learn from those mistakes – despite the burn. Nothing decent ever goes smoothly, and retelling the trauma in the pub is half the fun. Thankfully, post-preview on Saturday night we weren’t licking our wounds in the pub, we were painting the town Rush purple with hope in our hearts and a triumphant bottle of tequila in our hands.

Find out more about Rush Theatre by visiting their Twitter or website.

Image 1: Jacques Parker, Gareth Saunders

Image 2: Chi-san Howard, Francesca Murray-Fuentes, Jacques Parker

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Exit Stage Left: What do you have to compromise on to be an actor?

Posted on 17 March 2012 by Tristan Pate

An actress I’ve recently been working with has been regaling me with some wonderful tales of a lifetime in theatre. Hers is an illustrious career which has provided her with a surfeit of anecdotes ranging from the hilarious to the downright bizarre. Her stories have helped to pass long journeys on tour, and I’ve been entertained, enthralled and at times, amazed.

One of the more poignant insights she has shared has really got me thinking about the nature of our profession as a lifestyle choice. On this very platform Filskit Theatre recently wrote very eloquently about the fading novelty of the artist on the road – forced to adjust to a diet of Boots Meal Deals, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the standard room layout of budget hotel chains and longs for a home-cooked meal in the company of his loved ones.

It’s a way of life I have come to know well and accept as an inescapable part of the actor’s profession. The sad truth my colleague had observed was that in all her years in theatre she had seen a real shift within the creative community. No one was settling down anymore. No one was getting married, having children or getting mortgages – the actor’s way of life had become solitary, even anonymous. Collectively we had compromised for our art and subscribed to the bohemian existence of the wandering minstrel, with no ties to bind us either geographically or emotionally.

Now it must be said that this is not a universal truism. Many of us have strong relationships and family support networks and are able to strike a healthy balance. I’ve also met actors who claim to love the touring lifestyle. It’s a great way to see the world, to learn your craft and to gain a variety of experiences, but I’ve always needed stability. As an actor I am characteristically insecure and I need the love of my family infinitely more than the adulation of an audience. The uncertainty of my future is the cross I have to bear and it will always be difficult for me to promise the security my loved ones deserve.

The real problem is the lack of understanding and support of these needs in the industry. Equity fights for us to receive approved contracts and pension plans, and to stop people selling their services for free in an attempt to stamp out the exploitative elements of the business; in essence, it campaigns for actors to receive the rights of any other working professional. But the self-employed will always live a precarious existence, in which it is impossible to plan more than a month in advance and every opportunity must be seized to prepare for a potential dearth of options in the future.

My associate’s personal experiences as a wife and mother were what really hit home for me. Whether it was the community spirit of actors bringing their children to rehearsals in days gone by (evidently commonplace back then, but hard to comprehend by today’s standards) to babysitting for each other, even popping backstage to feed a baby mid performance, there is no provision for this kind of behaviour in modern theatre and as a result, people simply don’t do it.

The decision to perhaps take a couple of years out to have a baby can be a career-crippling move for an actress still making a name for herself, and with no maternity cover specified in short term contracts it’s often an option which is completely unviable. Relationships between actors on either side of the country in separate touring jobs can easily become strained, not to mention the professional jealousy that can often spring from such partnerships. It’s a sad thought that one can easily enjoy a successful lifetime in the arts and retire having never made any meaningful commitments along the way.

So ours is a vocation riddled with compromise, but a career is only what you make of it. You don’t have to live entirely at the mercy of fate – each decision is yours and yours alone. There are surely more creatives in the world now than there have ever been and the competition is fierce, but there’s an equally large support network out there if you want to engage with it. Whether it’s through online forums such as A Younger Theatre or making friends within the business, there are others everywhere sharing the same woes. For us to be an acting community again, we need to pull together – by offering a sofa to friend in need, helping to publicise a fringe production, even babysitting each other’s kids. In my experience actors are the most incredibly supportive people onstage, and it’s a virtue we must espouse offstage too.

Image credit: Sarah Macmillan.

Tristan Pate

Tristan Pate

Tristan is an actor and musician and graduated from the Birmingham School of Acting in 2010. Since then he has appeared in plays, musicals and physical theatre pieces both touring nationally, and in London. He lives in Oxfordshire with his fiancée and young daughter.

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