Les Misérables have been with us a lot recently. Whether it’s the timeless musical (with a big anniversary this autumn) or the BBC’s recent series, we can’t seem to escape this seminal work of French literature.
From this, few would argue that the stage work of August 012 is not bold and inventive. Some shows have missed the mark such as Highway One at the Festival of Voice last year, though work like Caligula was brash and brilliant. In their most recent production, Victor Hugo’s massive novel is the backdrop for a show which blends post Brexit blues, and a deeper look at the Battle of Waterloo, written about extensively in the novel (19 chapters no less). There are always a few tricks and surprises when you see August 012 and here was no different. There is usually glitter as well.
Even when arriving into the space we get a shock to the system, rolls of turf take up the floor, as the actors warm up, moving around the space. We get recounts of the Brexit votes from areas of the UK, readings from the novel itself and young female dancers, adorned in military attire of the time clamour and collapse in this field of view. A story about being in Greece when the vote came in felt like an after thought and just a typical “Where were you when Brexit happened?” story. The piece has a lingering worry about Brexit resulting in more racism, though only from the bad eggs who choose to act in such a way.
The direction of Mathilde Lopez is often “wacky” and inspired moments usually creep through her work. Matteo Marfoglia’s choreography for the solider dancers is fidgety, but compelling. The dancers are used the right amount of time since they seem to engulf the space overtime they arrive in it. I knew it was all over for me choosing to sit on one of the sofas in the front row: you never get a break in their shows. I had to raise a small lion when prompted, had a performer demand I gave it to her at another point (as she bit its head off) and another actor felt like resting his legs on my lap, during an engrossing reading of the battle scene. I lost it when an older actor was dressed up as a giant Dorito.
The show did a very good job of conveying the disbelief that Brexit was going to go through. This battle is itself still on going, as Waterloo proved to be a defining moment of its own era, with no real winner even then. There is flare here and is just the right length as well. Ballot boxes being made to look like a cemetery as mist billowed, is perhaps the summation of the entire work, an inspired idea which lingers in the memory. Perhaps the on the nose final words about Brexit could have been scrapped as we all know it and still feel the sentiments expressed here, without it being said.
This is an almost brilliant reimagining, though I think we are all so sick of hearing about Brexit and it’s many pitfalls it has just become white noise to most of us. This should not stop you from seeing this Les Mis.
Les Misérables continues at Chapter Arts Centre till 30th March 2019.
Image: Jorge Lizalde