Les Miserables / Blithe Spirit – 14/05/2014

I was excited about this day for two reasons: one; I would be seeing Dame Angela Lansbury live on stage and two; I would be taking my Mum to see Les Miserables on a West End stage for the first time. After picking my Mum up from Euston we headed over to the Queen’s Theatre for the matinee. I had been going on and on for months about Tam Mutu as Javert – Javert is my all time favourite Les Miserables character and Tam plays the part beautifully. I had also been raving about Carrie Hope Fletcher’s portrayal of Eponine, and was totally convinced that one or both of them would not be on stage because that’s just my luck. Thankfully there was only one change – Jade Davies would be performing as Cosette instead of Samantha Dorsey.   

This was the second show in my “Restricted West End” project and we were seated in the slips of the dress circle (Row A, seats 1 & 2). The view was spectacular, you could see practically the entire stage and directly into the orchestra pit. The leg room was a bit restricted but if you’re 5 foot nothing like me or my Mum that really isn’t an issue. As the music started I couldn’t stop grinning – I love this show!

Daniel Koek was on as Jean Valjean and I really don’t like him. He has a good voice but is completely out-classed by the rest of the cast. He had his moments – his “Who Am I?” was very forceful but if there was anyone else singing with him his voice was lost. Tam Mutu was, of course, incredible. I squeaked when he came onto the stage and couldn’t stop hitting my Mum in excitement – she really hates it when I do that! Na-Young Jeon was a wonderfully dignified Fantine and her “I Dreamed a Dream” gave me goosebumps. The “Confrontation” between Valjean and Javert was spectacular – I was so focused on Fantine that I jumped out of my skin when I heard Tam Mutu growl “Valjean” from the shadows – I hadn’t seen him creep on stage.

This ensemble is such a strong one that it’s hard for any one member to stand out, but Adam Linstead definitely did. He went from a kind, compassionate Bishop of Digne to a bitter, pessimistic Grantaire with no trouble whatsoever. He really stood out to me and even in the group numbers I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He played Grantaire so beautifully and showed such raw passion and emotion that it took my breath away. Anton Zetterholm who plays Enjolras was also fantastic – he was fervent and determined and gave a fiercely rousing performance of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” that seemed to stir the entire audience.

I have had terrible luck with Marius’ in the past (Nick Jonas and Gareth Gates) but, thankfully, Rob Houchen was an absolute dream to watch. Carrie Hope Fletcher plays a tougher, fiercer Eponine than I am used to but she also shows her vulnerable side and manages to convey that her rough exterior is just an act, which must be hard to do live on stage every night.

The absolute highlight of the show was Tam Mutu performing “Javert’s Suicide: Soliloquy.” The transformation in his character was so cleverly shown – his once-perfect hair was now wild and hanging around his face, his uniform was ragged and his movements were now jarred and uncertain; a stark contrast to the composed, dignified Javert of the first act. Tam Mutu manages to convey Javert’s utter despair and desperation and it was heartbreaking to watch such a proud character hit rock bottom. I felt myself connect with Javert, I felt his desolation and, as he threw himself off the bridge into the river below, I couldn’t help but cry out. I didn’t notice until my Mum wiped them away that there were tears streaming down my face.

The show was absolutely flawless from beginning to end and I have to mention Cameron Blakely and Wendy Ferguson who play the Thénardiers – they are a formidable duo and their comic timing is spot on. 

After the show I headed to the stage door where I was lucky enough to meet Rob Houchen and Carrie Hope Fletcher. I also wanted to meet Tam Mutu but wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get any words out – in the end my Mum dragged me over to him and he was an absolute sweetheart. I wanted to say “you’re my all-time favourite Javert, you play the role so beautifully and I don’t want you to leave” but what I actually managed was “Hi… picture?” Maybe next time.

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Slightly restricted leg room…

 

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Tam Mutu

 After taking my Mum to Tottenham Court Road station where she assured me she could get back to Euston on her own (she has no sense of direction whatsoever) I walked back to the Gielgud Theatre where Blithe Spirit was being performed. This was supposed to be a “Restricted West End” post however I had had a voicemail earlier in the week saying that my ticket in the slips was no longer valid as the slips didn’t exist anymore, but that they were more than happy to upgrade my ticket to a premier seat in the Dress Circle for no extra charge. Well, if you insist!

The view from my seat was phenomenal and, even though she was on the front of the programme and had a whole page to herself inside to list her various accolades, I still absolutely did not believe that Dame Angela Lansbury would be on that stage in a matter of minutes. One of my favourite films is Bedknobs and Broomsticks and I’ve spent many an afternoon with my Nanna watching “Murder, She Wrote” with a brew and a biscuit, and I couldn’t process the fact that I would be watching this incredible woman live on stage – for one thing, she’s 88 years old!

The story itself is absolutely brilliant – I love Noel Coward plays. This play is about an author named Charles (Charles Edwards) who has invited eccentric medium Madame Arcati (Dame Angela Lansbury) to perform a séance so he can gather material about a new character in his latest book. He is accompanied by his wife Ruth (Janie Dee) and their friends Doctor and Mrs Bradman played by Simon Jones and Serena Evans respectively. Also popping in and out is their servant Edith (Patsy Ferran) who is hilariously incompetent. Before their guests arrive, Charles and Ruth are discussing Charles’ late wife Elvira and how attractive she was. Ruth, Charles, Doctor Bradman and Mrs Bradman are very sceptical of Madame Arcati but are prepared to humour her for the sake of Charles’ research. When Madame Arcati arrives the entire theatre erupted into applause and I very nearly fell off my seat – it really was Dame Angela Lansbury, right there in front of me! I could hardly keep still I was that overwhelmed. She was absolutely flawless. As her character was trying to get into contact with the otherworld she danced around the stage, twirling around and kicking her legs in the air – I can’t even do that now never mind at eighty eight years old! She was still so graceful and I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

As Madame Arcati made contact with the otherworld the table the party had their hands on began to move and the lights began to flicker. Suddenly a spirit came flying through the open window and Charles jumped up in fright – it was his wife Elvira (Jemima Rooper) but it soon became apparent that only he could see her. Madame Arcati guessed that someone must have been thinking very strongly of Elvira to bring her back, which annoyed his current wife Ruth no end. There was only one problem – nobody knew how to send Elvira back!

After a few days of being haunted by Elvira, Ruth had had enough and demanded that Charles bring back Madame Arcati to exorcise Elvira’s spirit. Jemima Rooper was delightfully mischievous and looked to be having great fun running around the stage, making things fly around the room in front of Ruth’s eyes. It was only when the servant Edith had an accident – she slipped on some axle grease that had been spread at the top of the stairs and gave herself a concussion – that Ruth began to suspect that Elvira might be trying to “bump Charles off.” After a heated argument with Charles about Elvira, Ruth storms off and takes the car. Elvira suddenly seems very distressed when she realises Ruth has taken the car and it soon transpires that she had tampered with the car’s brakes when Charles receives a phone call from a police officer about a car accident at the bottom of the lane. All of a sudden Elvira shrieks “Ruth, no!” and cowers in fright – Ruth is nowhere to be seen but Elvira is being thrown around the room, strangled and then thrown over a chair and spanked which was incredibly well acted.

One of my favourite things about the play was the transitions in-between scenes. A black screen would come down and a brief description of the next scene would be projected onto it, just like in old, silent films.

Madame Arcati is brought back at the beginning of Act Two to try and ease Ruth’s spirit, but all she succeeds in doing is bringing Ruth’s ghost back so that Charles is now being haunted by two of his dead wives. Madame Arcati tries everything she can think of to release the spirits – much to the chagrin of Ruth and Elvira who quite clearly aren’t going anywhere. Madame Arcati insists that there is a very strong psychic presence in the house that brought Ruth and Elvira back and keeps talking of a “white bandage.” She implores whoever brought the two women back to show themselves, at which point Edith walks down the stairs complete with a white bandage around her head. Madame Arcati puts Edith into a trance and finally manages to banish Ruth and Elvira who both went flying out of the open drawing room window, shrieking that they would never really be gone. Madame Arcati confirms to Charles that the essence of his two wives will continue to linger in the house, and suggests that he might want to go away on holiday.

This is where the stage designers outdid themselves. As Charles was telling his wives he was going away strange things began to happen – vases toppled off the mantelpiece, books came flying off the bookshelves, the chandelier fell, light bulbs exploded, the runner was pulled off the piano – but there was only Charles on stage! As his wives grew more and more angry at his departure the set literally began to fall apart around his ears, culminating in the ceiling falling in, complete with plaster flying everywhere. It really was very impressive, if a little scary to watch.

Afterwards the cast came on for the curtain call one at a time until only Dame Angela Lansbury was missing. “I’ll go and get her shall I?” joked Charles Edwards and escorted her onto the stage. It was magical; the entire theatre rose out of their seats to give a standing ovation and a single red rose was thrown onto the stage for her which she graciously accepted. I quickly headed to the stage door where I was told that Dame Angela Lansbury would not be signing programmes or taking pictures, which was perfectly understandable given her age and the fact that she had just spent the last two and a half hours on stage. She did, however, come out and thank everyone for coming, which was very kind of her as she must have been exhausted – I know I was!

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One thought on “Les Miserables / Blithe Spirit – 14/05/2014

  1. Pingback: Restricted West End | Theatre Therapy

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