Triumphant Les Misérables

Photo Joanne McCloy Photography.
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There are not too many shows you find yourself intoxicated by the sheer spectacle of what is happening before you, leaping to your feet along with the rest of the theatre in rapturous appreciation of what you have just experienced, but Variety Theatre Ashburton’s production of the NBS season of Les Misérables is just such a show.

As someone who witnessed the fledgling years of The Ashburton Operatic Society’s shows decades ago in the old Regent Theatre, the progression in terms of technology and sheer talent development has been exponential.

I see a definite link between the building of the event centre, opened in 2008, and an explosion of the pursuit and development of the performing arts in Mid Canterbury.

People are exposed to very high performance values on television shows such as The Voice, AGT and the like, and have come to expect the same level of professionalism when forking out good money for a local experience.

Fortunately, Les Misérables delivers in spades.

Across all the theatre disciplines, this production shines. Leads, ensemble, orchestra, lighting, sound, wardrobe, set – it all comes together in three full hours of pure escapism.

Luke Glendining as Jean Valjean has landed his dream role and carries it off with a stage presence and vocal performance entirely worthy of this Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg masterwork.

The power of the ensemble is beautifully balanced by the poignant and beautiful. I Had A Dream is delivered by Briar Patrick (Fantine) in an emotionally drenched delivery you couldn’t help but be drawn into.

From there the show journeyed through the highs and lows of this struggle for meaning, justice, survival, love and purpose, in France, 1815.

Standouts were the comedic relief provided by the bent innkeeper and his wife, gleefully played by Warwick Shillito (Thernadier) and Libby Higson (Madame Therandier), who were simply brilliant, along with a complete cast who, all of them, delivered star quality.

The Roger Farr set and lighting design was entirely created locally, Bounce from Christchurch had the sound completely under control and the beautiful sounds filling the theatre from the 15-piece live orchestra, expertly directed by the legend who is Jo Castelow, were exquisite.

I had to keep reminding myself, “This is Ashburton?”

This production and its company could find a standing ovation on any stage on the planet.


It had everything.

Sass and violence. Sax and violins.

I’ve been waiting to use that line for years.

With the final performances this week, finishing Saturday, buy or beg a ticket.

Steal one if you have to. It’ll honestly be well worth the 19 years with hard labour if you do.

Photo Joanne McCloy Photography