The Scotsman

20 August 1997

Les Miserables
Fringe Club
* * * *
Red Shift Theatre Company's self-imposed task of bringing classics of European literature to the stage, which has previously led to its Death in Venice and Crime and Punishment, has here issued an excellent and meaty production of Victor Hugo's classic Les Miserables.
Those who know the work from the West End musical may miss the breadth of evocation of a whole society that format gives; Red Shift's six actors have to confine themselves to the stories of the main characters.
But what they lose in spectacle they gain in intimacy. The story's epic sweep is captured here by a box-like set on wheels which is opened, closed and perpetually swirled around by the cast, who also frame battle and a chase scene with accomplished percussion playing. The facility of the six in interacting and swapping from role to role is also a highly successful replacement for what to the Victorians was Hugo's page-turning prose.
Clifford Barry is ideal as Valjean, Hugo's towering hero, the classless peasant made bad made good, who spends the years from 1789 to 1832 fleeing the hand of the law and the end of an unjust prison sentence, and trying to build a life of philanthropy. Valjean and Inspector Javert, who pursues him down the years, become twin symbols of France's conscience in the face of human misery and despair on which its bourgeois prosperity floats: Javert demands the rule of law and measure for measure to bring the partnership of crime and poverty under control, while Valjean seeks to stimulate the happiness of individuals by acts of kindness.
Barry gives heart and body to Hugo's creation, whose downfall is the St Christopher-like size and strength which are always being called upon to carry both children and adults to safety. The other players supply villainy, wretchedness, innocence, love-interest and humour in various forms.
A satisfying and skilled performance of a great classic by an experienced and enterprising company - though it could use an evening slot and a more intimate theatre.

Sara O'Sullivan







The Financial Times

20 August 1997

At the Fringe Club, Red Shift continue their revivification begun with last year's Bartleby. Victor Hugo's Les Miserables is a world away from big musicals, as a cast of six concentrate on just telling the story. It is a "poor theatre" production, in ethos if not in resources, relying on skills of characterisation and often ellipsing entire episodes into a couple of lines of dialogue and a meaningful look. Once again, live music is used to telling effect, and even the taped songs of The Pogues which play pre-show and during the interval seem somehow to add to the underworld Parisian atmosphere.

Ian Shuttleworth

The List 

22 - 28 August

Theatre Review
Les Miserables * * * *

Just as Hollywood has ripped the life-blood out of many a damn fine story, similar felonies are commonplace in the West End. Here Red Shift strip all the glam trappings from Hugo's 19th century masterpiece. Focusing on the plight of ophan Cosette and reformed criminal Jean Valjean on the run from jobsworth Inspector Javert, mankind is shown in its brightest and most murky colours.
Played out on a rotating steel box and accompanied by live music - but not song, the six-strong cast provide an honest and moving account, giving power and immediacy to Hugo's timeless and univeral themes of poverty and greed. Classless society, my arse. (Claire Prentice)