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Les Mis at 37 and Mamma Mia muckup matinee

It’s fascinating, at least to me, to discover, or rather re-discover, what it is like to step away from the reviewing circuit and experience an evening at the theatre as a member of the public. Rightly or wrongly, first impressions do count, and my experience at the Sondheim Theatre on a Saturday evening to mark the thirty-seventh birthday of Les Misérables did not begin well. Various members of staff were positioned outside the theatre to manage queue lines, and all of them were yelling instructions.

I’d tell you what they were, except they were all shouting over one another, and I couldn’t make out what any of them were saying. There was signage, and some decent and highly civilised personnel at the theatre doors who treated people as they would wish to be treated themselves. As for the shouty women positioned further away, I wonder whether they would tolerate being screamed at in the way in which they scream at theatregoers. Their conduct was extremely off-putting, and if I didn’t regularly attend the theatre, I would frankly think twice before going ever again.

Anyway, my fellow patrons were a group from Scotland, who had seen some touring productions at the Edinburgh Playhouse but agreed with one another that nothing beats seeing shows in the West End. There was also a young couple sat next to me who were seeing the show for the first time – at the interval they were struggling a little to put the various narrative strands together, not quite following, for instance, that Jean Valjean (Jon Robyns) tearing up his yellow ‘ticket of leave’ and no longer regularly reporting his whereabouts to the police was a breach of his parole conditions. They aren’t the only ones to come away from a first viewing not fully grasping every detail – there’s a great parody song from the musical revue Forbidden Broadway with this verse:

At the end of the day, see the audience smoulder

Sitting flat on their butts for three hours or more

They can’t wait to get back home

And to read the libretto in bed

To decipher whatever went on

And what was said

Better read the synopsis

At the end of the play

The last time I attended a Les Mis birthday performance, there was free bubbly passed around for everyone: I sipped as much as I could before it was clear we had to leave the auditorium. It would have been in bad taste to have repeated that gesture this time around – the ticket prices have been ramped up far beyond the rate of inflation (inflation being what it is at the time of writing!) and energy bills are affecting theatres at least as much as they are affecting everyone else, so free bottle after free bottle of champagne would just be more than a little weird. Robyns pointed out at curtain call that 8 October has a special significance, in that it was the day in 2015 when Jurgen Klopp was named manager of Liverpool Football Club. Cue laughter, and a clarification from David Thaxton, who plays Inspector Javert, and who just happens to support Everton, as to why the house had sold out.

I would have gone over to the Novello Theatre to see the last performance of the current cast of Mamma Mia! if that hadn’t clashed with ‘Les Mis 37’, but I popped over there for the muck-up matinee earlier. All very reasonable staff outside that theatre! It is such a tight show that there’s not much they can do in terms of sendups and windups, although Sky (Jack Danson) was left without a change of costume in ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’, and might have fallen victim to not being able to leave via the blue doors stage right during the second half (in the scene prior to Donna Sheridan (at this performance, Gemma Atkins) singing ‘One of Us’), except only one of the doors had been locked or bolted shut.

There were some colourful headcaps deployed during ‘Our Last Summer’ which I don’t recall seeing before, and at the encore, when Sophie Sheridan (Emma Mullen) would usually lead most of the company from the rear to the front of the stage during a reprise of the title number, the ensemble instead remained at the back, applauding their leading lady on her last day in the office. It’s how muck-up matinees should be, really: first-time visitors to the show wouldn’t have known the difference, and the regulars had a good laugh on top of the feelgood factor the show comes with in any event.

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