I am a freelance writer passionate about sharing my experiences of the interesting and exciting activities Adelaide has to offer, with a particular focus on live theatre.
Scotch College experiences the Les Miserables revolution
Presented by Scotch College Adelaide Performing Arts Reviewed August 2, 2019
Since 2012, Scotch College Performing Arts has been receiving critical acclaim for their annual musical which is always of a professional quality and one whereby the production team takes risks and pushes the boundaries of that which was originally thought possible of a school production. Continuing in this tradition, forming part of their Centenary year celebrations, 2019 sees Scotch produce the school edition of one of West End's longest-running musicals, the famous and award-winning Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubil musical, Les Miserables. Though in previous years, this musical has been a popular choice for schools and amateur theatre companies, Scotch's interpretation is one which is superior and transcends that of other recent productions of this popular show. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that the complete season was entirely sold out, with the performance reviewed receiving a well deserved unanimous thunderous applause and standing ovation lasting for several minutes. Thus, there could be no better way to celebrate 100 years of performing arts education at Scotch College.
Ned Baulderstone is sublime as Jean Valjean, making one believe he has been borrowed from Broadway. Photo: Tim Allan. Source: Supplied
Les Miserables: School Edition is a moderately abridged version of the original script but while abridged, the powerful and poignant story remains the same, and only long-standing fans of the musical will recognise minor changes. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, the sung-through musical is set in France during early nineteenth century, and follows the story of unfortunate prisoner Jean Valjean, who, whilst on parole is shown a significant act of mercy from a bishop, leading Valjean to break his parole, hoping to escape from his previous life of wrongdoing and begin a new life which will see him redeemed for his faults, and learning how to truly love and care for another. However, upon discovering that Valjean has broken his parole, refusing to believe that Valjean is capable of changing his ways, Police Inspector Javert relentlessly pursues him, determined to see him behind bars again. This is further complicated by an uprising of student revolutionaries who attempt to overthrow the government, during which time Javert is held hostage by the students, and Valjean, in an act of true grace, makes the choice to release Javert, forcing Javert to then confront his unwavering ideals.
In a complex sung-through musical like Les Miserables, there are several challenges which present themselves. Firstly, it requires an experienced musical director/conductor and vocal coaches who can sufficiently guide and direct the orchestra and cast in navigating a difficult and complex score, with the orchestra required to sustain playing for a duration of close to three hours with only a few small breaks and one interval break between both acts. Second, such a musical also requires an equally experienced director who can effectively and appropriately block scenes in such a way that makes sense, and reinforce the story, while also being able to sufficiently guide and coach their actors in ensuring that their portrayals and characterisations are realistic and believable, without becoming melodramatic. Fortunately, Scotch have such experienced people. Whilst Anthony Hubmayer suitably directs his 18 piece orchestra of both students and staff to produce a quality sound, with each note played perfectly without stumbling, Mark Stefanoff and Janna Romeo have suitably coached students to ensure that their vocals are adequate and of the best possible quality and sound with correct pitches and tones. Secondly, in her blocking choices, director Linda Williams has used the performance space significantly well and blocked each scene adequately in a way that is clever and makes sense, maximising the several different entrances and exists which the set allows for. Further, in association with choreographic director Nina Richards, the ensemble numbers are regimented and ordered and makes excellent use of the space available on stage. Richards is to be most commended for her movement choreography, as while there is potential for messy and disorganised movements, such is not the case with her carefully choreographed movements.
Jack Raftopolous (centre) commands the stage well and displays appropriate confidence and charisma as revolutionary student leader Enroljas. Photo: Tim Allan. Source: Supplied.
Additionally, as Les Miserables is a challenging show vocally, particularly for students, Williams has assembled two alternating casts, appropriately named Paris and London. The review which follows is of the Paris cast, and while I can not comment on the London cast, the Paris cast which has been assembled, is an excellent one.
Hugh Whittle delivers a fine performance as strong-willed and unwavering Police Inspector Javert. Photo: Tim Allan. Source: Supplied
As Inspector Javert, Hugh Whittle gives a solid performance, and as the strong-willed and unwavering antagonist for Valjean. Whittle's pace, both in physical movement and vocals, conveys appropriate authority, and makes him one to be feared.
As revolutionary student leader Enroljas, Jack Raftopolous commands the stage well and displays appropriate confidence and charisma.
As the mistreated and unfortunate factory worker Fantine, Georgia Raftopolous gives a solid performance, conveying well the sheer desperation and heartache of her character. Her solo I Dreamed a Dream, is particularly poignant and displays well Raftopolous' beautiful vocals. Similarly, as troubled and lonely character Eponine, Eliza Fabbro also delivers a fine performance, portraying well the difficult emotions Eponine faces, particularly with regards to the unrequited love she experiences.
As young love-at-first-sight lovers Cosette and Marius, Millie Brake and Harry McGinty complement each other well, both delivering a pleasant performance and exhibiting beautiful chemistry and vocals, which is a joy to watch. Their duet Heart Full of Love, is particularly lovely.
Sebastian Skubala (left) and Charlie Miller (right) complement each other well as the Thenadiers. Also pictured Tuilelaith Baird (centre) as Little Cosette*. Photo: Tim Allan. Source: Supplied
In a similar way, as the comic Thenadier husband and wife duo, Sebastian Skubala and Charlie Miller also complement each other well and provide an abundance of much needed comic relief. Both actors have exceptional characterisation and appropriate comic timing, facial expressions, mannerisms and pace, both in physical movement and delivery of dialogue. Further, in such comic roles, it can be easy to upstage fellow actors and become over the top, but such is not the case with Skubala and Miller, who have a sound knowledge of how to portray their characters without becoming over the top.
The aforementioned actors are also supported well by young actors Lucas Nunn and Zara Windle in the coveted roles of Gavroche and Little Cosette, respectively. Although these roles are only minor, they are just as relevant to the story as the other characters. While both actors are adorable, Nunn, in particular, gives full command to the stage and his role; his portrayal of a persistent young boy pursuing the enemy, leading him to sacrifice himself in an act of true love for his friends, is most commendable, and brings a tear to the eye.*
However, although the preceding actors deliver fine performances, there is one particular actor who stands out above the rest. In perhaps the most physically and vocally challenging role, Ned Baulderstone is sublime in the lead role of Jean Valjean. Demonstrating such talent that is well beyond his years, one could be excused for believing that Scotch has been privileged enough to borrow Baulderstone from Broadway, as he delivers a faultless performance that is professional and of a very high standard. It is evident that he has a solid understanding of Valjean's character, and as such, is able to effectively portray a suitable balance of the pain and suffering Valjean experiences, but also of the kindness and compassion inherent within Valjean's character. Baulderstone's rendition of Bring Him Home is particularly beautiful to listen to, and allows Baulderstone to fully demonstrate his vocal abilities significantly well; he is truly gifted and will continue to excel in this industry.
Georgia Raftopolous gives a solid performance and has beautiful vocals as mistreated and unfortunate factory worker Fantine. Photo: Tim Allan. Source: Supplied.
Whilst the quality of acting and vocals is superior and is reason enough for the success of the musical, it can sometimes be easy to forget those who also work hard behind the scenes as designers for set, lighting and costume, and whose designs are just as vital to the musical's success as the actors. In this case, much like the cast, the selected designers are also very talented, and their designs are most worthy of much praise.
In association with director Linda Williams and stage designer Craig Williams, Brian Brudgen's set design sees the performance venue, the Fisher Chapel, adorned with large French flags, and in a first for Scotch College, a courageous and risky decision to have the performance space flipped back to front and the multilevel wall-to-wall set constructed from the floor upwards, utilising the balcony of the Fisher Chapel to excellent effect. Featuring hundreds of painted cobblestones on floor level, the plain grey colour palette of the set is matched with Budgen and Williams' detailed and elaborate scenic projection designs which fill the entirety of the set and allow for several swift and smooth scene and location changes, as the diversity of designs transport the audience to different locations such as docks, factories, bridges, houses, sewers. Similarly, sliding doors in the middle of the set occasionally open to allow for the quick placement and removal of set pieces, to further ensure that scene changes are rapid. Of most significance though, these doors allow for the entrance of the incredible self-rotating barricade set piece, which is truly something to behold. This set is even further complemented by innovative lighting design by Jason Groves, which help to reinforce location and contribute to the mood, in addition to using simplistic designs to indicate a character's death and ascension to Heaven, and later when characters appear as ghostly figures.
Costumes designed by Trish Whittle are beautiful, showing a high level of skill and professional quality. With approximately 300 costumes in total, they are all interesting and carefully designed with intricate designs which pay close attention to detail and are reflective of, and relevant to, the time period in which the musical is set.
Ultimately, staging Les Miserables is by no means an easy feat for any amateur company, let alone a school. It takes much time, effort, commitment and teamwork from all involved to ensure a quality production which is entertaining and smooth flowing. Fortunately, it is the case that Scotch College has effectively utilised and maximised all the possible resources available to them and have assembled an exceptional cast and production team to produce a show which is nothing short of breathtaking, and anything but miserable. In short, the success of this musical is definitely worth celebrating, and an excellent way to remember Scotch's Centenary year. It is a production that will, without any doubt, remain in one's memory for many years to come, leaving one with nothing but a heart full of love for such a memorable experience.
*note that there are three alternating casts for Gavroche and Little Cosette, as opposed to only two for the other leading and support characters.