Empire building reputation

Les Miserables, Empire Theatre Arts, Queensbury School, Dunstable

JUST when we thought Empire Arts could not better their previous year’s production, along came their latest show, writes Nova Horley.

We were treated to an excellent night’s theatre, which is even more amazing given the ages of the performers.

Lucy O’Hare and her team, including Ashley Mead and Graham Thomson as MD, worked wonders with these young people in putting on such a superb production in just two weeks.

The set worked well and the backstage team worked hard to ensure the changes were quick and as unobtrusive as possible, with imaginative lighting which enhanced the scenes and the performances.

Costumes complemented the feel of the piece and were excellent.

The band was excellent, but at times the sound balance between band and singers was not good, plus late mic co-ordination in some places meant we missed important words.

Yet the wonderful harmonies achieved by the cast in general and the depth of vocal achievement by the principals outshone the technical blips.

For me, the revelation of the production was Ollie Slade as Javert.

Having said last year that I thought Ollie had found his niche as a comedy performer, in Javert he showed a mature approach to the dark side of the man and his voice has improved beyond measure – a super performance.

I also liked Katherine Knight’s approach to Fantine – a stronger character than Fantine is usually played as – and it worked well, with real feeling in her singing.

John Douglas gave us a super comedy performance as Thenardier, wonderfully evil, while getting all the humour from the words, and Tara Patterson as Madame Thenardier also got excellent comedy from the part.

Pari Shahmir was a compelling Eponine, with an excellent voice.

Her portrayal was strong and a good contrast to the charming Katie Ross as Cosette, who gave an altogether softer but beautiful portrayal.

Erin Smith and Imogen Gurney, as young Eponine and Cosette respectively, were charming, and Imogen sang with feeling and understanding.

Ollie Alden was a cheeky Gavroche, creating the exact right feel for the character and adding lightness to serious scenes.

Cameron Hay as Enjolras has again upped his level of performance from last year, inciting the students to take a stand.

Beautifully sung, and his contrast with Jamie Pritchard as Marius was also well drawn.

Jamie showed the softer side of Marius and his empathy with Cosette created a nice couple that one felt sympathy with.

Stuart Grey, in his first role for Empire, played Jean Valjean with understanding and worked his way through the various ages of the character well.

His characterisation slipped occasionally, but overall a difficult role to play and Stuart got the nuances required.

The whole cast performed exceedingly well and it was good to see everyone giving their all. I’m sorry I can’t mention everyone by name.

I can’t praise the cast and crew enough for giving us such a superb production and I always particularly love seeing young people perform to such excellent standards. Congratulations to everyone.