Writer, poet and politician Victor Hugo is revered as one of the towering cultural figures of 19th-century Europe but less known was his gift as a visual artist. Musically and narratively, Cameron Mackintosh’s 2009 internationally acclaimed production of Les Miserables needs no introduction to its worldwide fanbase but this reimagined presentation, inspired by Hugo’s monumental paintings, takes stagecraft to a whole new level of theatrical daring.
Laurence Connor and James Powell’s gritty, epic-scale spectacular sits proudly on the vast stage of Dublin’s Bord Gais Energy Theatre and, under Ben Atkinson’s musical direction, the live orchestra contributes rich, muscular support. The great ensemble showpieces are marvellously staged against the backdrop of the paintings, which are integrated into the action with breathtaking projection wizardry.
In the contrasting lead roles of Jean Valjean and his nemesis Javert, Killian Donnelly and Nic Greenshields are arrestingly powerful. In terms of personal morality, vocal virtuosity and physicality, theirs is a parallel partnership of equals, with Donnelly bringing a grizzled credibility to a heartfelt performance before his home crowd.
As usual, the signature musical numbers compensate for gaps in the storyline though one wonders why Katie Hall’s blonde bombshell Fantine is directed to deliver her big moment more like a pop anthem than a deep-seated cri de coeur. The highly disciplined cast comprises a pleasing blend of innocence and experience, while Will Richardson’s mellifluous voice and charismatic presence as student activist Enjolras marks him out as a name to watch.