LES MISERABLES - Sep 2009 by aqi13375


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Les Misérables- Introduction

Welcome to this introduction to the Audio Described performance of Les Misérables, by
Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, based on the novel by Victor Hugo. The
performance will take place at The Queen’s Theatre on Tuesday 8th September 2009.
There will be a touch tour at 5.30 pm; the introductory notes start at 7.15 and the
performance itself at 7.30 pm. Please note that the production makes use of bright lights,
smoke effects and loud gunshots.

The production lasts for approximately three hours including a 15 minute interval. The live
audio description will be given for VocalEyes by Louise Fryer and Jane Brambley.

There now follows information about Les Misérables which includes descriptions of the
characters, their costumes and the set. This is followed by useful information and contact

Les Misérables is set in France and tells the epic story of Jean Valjean and the student
revolution of 1832. The action begins 17 years earlier, in 1815 and moves to many
different locations, including city streets, the countryside, an inn, a hospital and even down
into the sewers under Paris. The set is minimal, with many of the scenes merely
suggested by the costumes of the characters and by the use of lighting.

Key locations are identified as large gauze screens the stage, with the time and place -
such as "1815 Toulon" - projected onto it , in yellow lettering that looks as though it’s been
written with a quill pen. The gauze is semi-transparent and, when lit from behind,
characters are visible through it, in a dark smoky haze. The lighting is highly dramatic and
atmospheric – sometimes the stage is a dark void with one character picked out in a soft
spotlight, at other times a group of characters is illuminated in cold steely blue. Characters
can be lit from a low angle so that they throw out giant shadows as they move. Some
crowd scenes are like moving oil paintings, the colours soft and sepia or luminous and
gleaming. Smoke effects are used: the air is thick with the gunsmoke of battle, or an all-
enveloping mist is pierced by shafts of light as though through the overhead grating of a
damp sewer.

The manhole leading down to the sewer is a heavy metal grid, positioned in the centre of
the stage floor, towards the front. The stage itself is cobbled in a dark charcoal grey.
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The back wall is also grey - almost black - though sometimes squares of light, like
windows, are projected onto it, the light filtered as though through the slats of shutters.

The proscenium arch - the 'picture frame' at the front of the stage, is constructed of heavy-
looking dark timbers. The action sometimes spills beyond the proscenium arch onto small
platform stages in front of it, on either side. These stages are semi-circular, curving
forward from the main stage. Each is about two metres deep. Behind these small stages
the walls of the theatre are covered with a section of dirty brick wall, supported by further
heavy beams. The walls have been moulded to incorporate arches - three on each side.
They look rather like small railway arches about a metre-and-a-half high, stacked on top of
each other. Only the top of the lowest arch is visible, giving the impression of a basement.
These arches are used as entrances and exits, the cast crawling in and out like sewer rats,
or sitting and crouching in front of them during large crowd scenes.

A large revolve has been built into the centre of the main stage which gives an almost
cinematic sense of movement as one scene progresses seamlessly to the next.
Characters on the revolve can move swiftly around the space whilst others, not standing
on it, remain static in front of them. A character walking against the direction of the revolve
appears to be travelling, whilst actually remaining on the same spot. The revolve can also
give us different perspectives on the same scene - allowing us to experience the action
from one side and then the other. For example – large iron gates seen from the street
swing around to the back, revealing the garden they are enclosing.

Some locations are created with a few items of furniture - the interior of a Bishop's home is
suggested by a large wooden table and chairs, the table set with silver goblets and two
large silver candlesticks.

When the action moves to a factory, two heavy cast iron gates about 3 metres high,
supported by large stone pillars move into position towards the back of the stage. The
poor people outside stretch their hands through the railings, while the Foreman inside
prepares to pay his workers.

An inn owned by the Thenardiers has plain dark wooden tables, benches, stools and
chairs - a table to the right representing the kitchen area, with a large metal food mincer
and crockery.

We move to the crowded smoky backstreets of Paris. From either side, piles of junk
stacked about 8 metres high close in, suggesting a kind of shanty town. The junk’s painted
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black - huge lengths of wood, sections of metal railings, louvred shutters, barrels,
cartwheels, iron bedsteads, boxes, chairs and ladders. The two towers of junk are linked,
high above the street, by a bridge with metal railings. The bridge spans about 6 metres
illuminated at either end by a gas lamp with a dim yellow glow.

At times a crowded cafe is created at the base of the towers, by closely set wooden tables
with benches or chairs. And the towers slide together to form the barricades.

Away from the backstreets, there’s an oasis of calm: A garden which belongs to Valjean,
simply suggested by two large iron gates with ivy clad gateposts and a small stone bench.

The characters and their costumes

The characters in Les Misérables wear costumes in keeping with the early 19th century.
For the women - mob caps or bonnets, and sometimes shawls worn over corseted
bodices, floor length gathered dresses or skirts, crinolines, bloomers and ankle length lace
up boots. The men wear suits with a cut-away tail coat or a frock coat, waistcoats,
breeches or tight fitting long trousers, knee length leather boots or dark gaiters and neck
scarves or cravats. The gentlemen wear top hats whilst the lower classes favour stovepipe
hats, workmen's cloth caps, bi-corn hats, (like that worn by Napoleon) and 'the red cap of
liberty' - a conical cap with the top bent over to one side, a cap initially worn by freed
slaves and convicts and later adopted by the French Revolutionaries.

Jean Valjean is a tall well built man in his mid thirties when we first meet him in Toulon.
It’s 1815 and Valjean is working on the Chain gang, convicted for stealing a mouthful of
bread. He has long unkempt black hair and a beard. His face is pale and his dark eyes
stare wildly about him. His clothes are dirty and ragged, his long coat torn and frayed. He
carries a canvas bag with a shoulder strap. Although he’s granted parole, he still moves
with the restlessness of a caged animal

Eight years later, in 1823, Valjean is elegantly dressed. His thick dark hair is cut at the
nape of the neck and greying slightly. His beard is full but clipped neatly. Valjean owns a
factory and arrives dressed in a smart jacket, with breeches and boots; later, in the street,
he’s in a top hat, a black frock coat with a white wing collar-shirt and dark cravat, and an
embroidered grey double breasted waistcoat. In spite of his smart appearance Valjean’s
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eyes never lose the expression of a hunted animal - an air betrayed by his sometimes
violent sudden movements.

Valjean is pursued relentlessly by Inspector Javert, an officer of the law. Javert is tall and
solidly built - an imposing figure who holds himself rigidly upright. Javert has a strong face
with an aquiline nose, heavy brows, full lips and a prominent chin. His brown hair is swept
back off his face into a pony tail secured with a black silk ribbon. As the years pass his
long hair and heavy sideburns become streaked with grey.

Inspector Javert’s mostly in uniform, a double breasted navy tail coat with silver buttons,
dark trousers and knee length dark leather boots, and a Napoleon style bi-corn hat. At
other times he wears a dark tailcoat and top hat. He is rarely seen without his heavy black
truncheon, which he tucks under his arm.

Two women come to play an important part in Valjean's life: Fantine and her daughter
Cosette. Fantine works in the factory owned by Valjean, but looks out of place beside her
grubby female colleagues. She’s a petite shapely young woman with thick fair tresses
which ripple down her back. She has a clear complexion and pale lips and gazes
innocently at the world with large blue eyes. Her light-green cotton dress is clean: with
short puffed sleeves, a scooped neckline, and a waist gathered high under the bust. It’s
worn over a cream long-sleeved blouse with lace at the wrist. Around her neck Fantine
wears a green velvet choker and a large silver locket on a long chain. At the factory she
protects her dress with a grey cotton apron and her long hair is tucked under a white mob

When we first meet little Cosette she’s a child of six or seven, thin and dirty with a gaunt
pale face, and a black eye. She wears a black knitted cap over her long straggly dark hair,
and her plain grey skirt and jacket are badly torn and frayed. Her legs are bare, and she
clomps about in heavy lace up brown work boots.

About ten years later, the older Cosette is a beautiful young woman, her dark hair in
glossy ringlets, tumbling over her shoulders. She is modestly dressed in a black silk gown
with a full skirt and long sleeves, and a large white lace collar and cuffs. Her black silk
bonnet is tied under the chin with a black and white organdie ribbon.

As a child, Cosette has been placed in the care of the Thenardiers, who run an inn.

Madame Thenardier is an enormous beefy woman with a mass of ginger hair, tied up on
top that flops down either side of her face, like a mop head. Several of her teeth are
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missing, giving her a grotesque smile. Madame Thenardier’s dressed in blue - the bodice
low cut revealing her generous cleavage; the big puffed sleeves revealing brawny arms as
thick as tree-trunks. Her apron is made of a heavy coarse fabric. While trying to fleece her
customers she engages them with a cosy little-girl grin, which unfortunately reveals her
rotting teeth.

Her husband Thenardier is puny beside his wife, dressed in a badly fitting blue army
jacket with gold tasselled epaulettes, brown breeches and dirty yellow stockings with
buckled shoes. He wears a blue cap of liberty, flopped over to one side, beneath which his
long greasy hair hangs past his shoulders. Thenardier has a long leather apron down to
his knees, with a small slate hanging from his belt, and a pencil tucked behind his ear. He
often holds the slate in his hand, noting down any extra charges he can make to fleece his
customers. Thenardier has a wily slippery way about him, with his weasel like features,
stubbly chin and sunken eyes.

Eponine is the Thenardiers’ daughter. When we first meet her, as a little girl, Eponine’s
lavishly dressed in a fine frock with a bonnet to match and she nurses a lavishly dressed
doll. Ten years later, in Paris, Eponine looks rough: a waif-like figure with unkempt, long
blonde hair under a workman's cap. Her white sleeveless blouse is dirty and cinched with
a man's leather belt; her filthy cotton skirt is torn at the hem and she wears heavy, lace up
boots. Her bare arms are covered in grime and bruises. But her face is pretty: she has
large blue eyes and when she smiles, her whole face lights up.

Eponine’s secretly in love with a student - Marius. He’s of medium height and slim build
with tightly curled light brown hair. His fine features wear an expression of earnest
concern which can quickly melt into a gentle boyish smile. Marius is dressed in a dark
tailcoat, dark trousers, white shirt and red cravat. His manner is hesitant and quiet - unlike
his exuberant friends....

...such as the handsome Enjolras who leads the revolution. Enjolras has collar length fair
hair, the fringe flopping over his forehead. His face has a classic noble look. When the
revolutionaries are on the barricade he dons a waistcoat of vivid red with gold braid, worn
over a white shirt, the sleeves rolled up. Enjolras moves energetically, inspiring all those
around him to join the revolution, leaping up onto the cafe tables or scrambling up the
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Another of the students, Grantaire, is a tall man with long, messy hair and a thin beard.
He’s never seen without a grin on his face and a bottle in his hand.

Gavroche is a young street urchin, a street wise boy of about nine years old. He’s thin and
wears ragged clothes with a cotton cap and a cheeky grin. Even though he’s small, he
struts about with a great sense of his own importance.

Valjean also meets a Bishop, in robes of grey and black, trimmed with red, and a dark
skull cap over his grey hair....

.. and a swaggering factory foreman, with long dark hair and a thick moustache - his
white cotton shirt open to his waist, tucked into tight breeches with knee high leather

The total cast for Les Misérables numbers over 30, and those not playing the principle
roles form an ensemble. The ensemble reinforces the sense of the scene, adopting
different roles that add to the stage picture.

They become farm labourers in straw hats and smocks of russet brown and orange; and
factory workers dressed in harsh greys and cold blues. The officers of the law wear
navy tail coats the tails pinned up revealing red linings. The military officers are in scarlet
and gold. As whores - or ‘lovely ladies’ – the female members of the ensemble are
resplendent, if vulgar, in red, scarlet, pink, and black with big feathered hats, feather boas,
and low cut tight corsets. Some wear grubby bloomers, others ragged skirts; some have
shawls or fingerless lace gloves. They’re all daubed with blobs of rouge and bright lipstick.
Their pimp’s loudly dressed in a top hat, red cravat and fancy checked trousers. Their
clients are sailors in stripy cotton tops, or elegant fops, tail-coated, top hatted, in silk
stockings and breeches. The whores are lit like music hall artistes, by footlights at the front
of the stage, which gives them an eerie and grotesque appearance, throwing huge
shadows on the wall behind them.

In Paris, the young men of the ensemble become students in waistcoats and trousers or
breeches. They wear their hair long, sometimes tied back in a pony tail, and sport tricolour
sashes of red white and blue, with cockades (a small bunch of looped ribbons) pinned to
their clothing.

Cast and production credits
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John Valjean              David Shannon

Inspector Javert          Earl Carpenter

Fantine                   Rebecca Seale

Little Cosette            Jessica Daugirda, Rhianna Hosmer, or Mia Jenkins

The older Cosette         Katie Hall

Madame Thenardier         Lorraine Bruce

Thenardier                Martin Ball

Young Eponine             Sasha Easterbrook, Alix Gilbert or Megan Keast

Eponine                   Nancy Sullivan
Marius                    Alistair Brammer

Enjolras                  David Thaxton

Grantaire                 Martin Nealy

Gavroche                  Ethan Beer, Declan Murphy-Saunders, George Sergeant,

                           or Tristan Semon-Ward

The chain Gang, Warders, Constables, Factory Workers, Sailors, Whores, Pimps,
Drinkers, Wedding Guests and other parts are played by members of the Ensemble.

The original text is by Alain Boubil and Jean-Marc Natel with additional material by James

The music is by Claude-Michel Schonberg with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer

Musical staging is by Kate Flatt, and the Musical Director is Adam Rowe.
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Costumes by Andreane Neofitou

Lighting by David Hersey

Company Manager Matt Eastaugh

The design is by John Napier

Les Misérables has been adapted and was originally directed by Trevor Nunn and John

The Resident Director is Adrian Sarple.

Useful information and contact numbers

At the Queens Theatre Guide dogs may be brought in to the auditorium or staff will be
happy to look after dogs during the performance. If you will be bringing a guide dog please
call the theatre beforehand, (if you have not already done so), on 020 7292 1350. You
can also call this number if you require any other further information. Please ask for Nick
Shaw the Theatre Manager or Steve Pleasants, the Deputy Theatre Manager.

To contact VocalEyes, call us on 020 7375 1043. You can receive a copy of the
freeVocalEyes Newsletter with full details on all our work by calling us or by following the
links on the VocalEyes accessible website. The Newsletter is available in print, Braille, on
CD or via e-mail. The website address is www.VocalEyes.co.uk.

VocalEyes is a charity funded by Arts Council England.

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