by Lynn on March 22, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

Dean Gilmour
Photo by Elisa Gilmour


At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Adapted by Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour in collaboration with the company.

From the novel by Victor Hugo

Directed by Michele Smith

Set and costumes by Victoria Wallace

Sound by Johnny Hockin

Lighting by Simon Rossiter

Projection design by Elisa Julia Gilmour

Cast: Mac Fyfe

Dean Gilmour

Nina Gilmour

Benjamin Muir

Daniel Roberts

Diana Tso

Theatre Smith-Gilmour works its usual magic by distilling Victor Hugo’s mammoth novel, “Les Misérables,” to its essence:  about life, liberty, being a slave to the law, following one’s conscience and righting injustice.

The Story.  The story takes place in France beginning in 1815 and ending in 1832 at the Paris Rebellion. Jean Valjean has stolen a loaf of bread, is found guilty and is sent to prison. After several attempts to escape and is recaught, he spends about nineteen years in prison. On his final escape he turns his life around, finds his conscience. lives by it and does good wherever he can. He is pursued by Javert (Mac Fyfe)  a career policeman who believes the law is the highest power and a convict is always a convict. The journey both men follow, sometimes intersecting, is the basic story of Les Misérables. It also asks: What is more important, a good conscience or following the law.

 The Production. Victoria Wallace’s set is the bare, black floor of the theatre. A table, some chairs, a pair of candle sticks and a few other props are all the trappings that are necessary to create the world of Jean Valjean in France in the 1800s. Simon Rossiter’s lighting is haunting.

Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour, the co-founders and co-artistic directors of Theatre Smith-Gilmour, in collaboration with the company, adapted Victor Hugo’s towering novel. The novel is huge, their adaptation is pared down but covers all the points and characters they need to in order to focus on the story they want to tell.

Dean Gilmour, wide-eyed, curious, agile, begins by setting the scene and introducing the characters as they were in the novel. He tells us in the clearest way that Jean Valjean smashed a bakery window and stole a loaf of bread. He describes prison and the escapes while using the various forms of performance to tell the story: mime, clown, movement. We learn the vocabulary of performance that has made Theatre Smith-Gilmour unique and special for forty years.

Every gesture is clear. Hands climbing up and sucking on to a wall suggests Jean is climbing to escape. A delicate pirouette-revolve suggests a change in character when Gilmour plays two parts at the same time: the hardened, suspicious Jean Valjean and kind Père Maboeuf who takes him in and gives him shelter and food.

The cast provide the subtlest of sound effects to add to the scenes: clinking of keys, tapping of a spoon on a saucer, whooshing sounds suggesting speed. It is always effective and never distracting.

The company, lead by the always compelling Dean Gilmour as Jean Valjean among others, play multiple parts, create the sweep and life of France and convincingly realize the frenzied charging of the barricades in Paris in 1832, all with a cast of just six actors. They realize the grinding poverty of the poor, the cruelty of opportunists, the lack of forgiveness by Javert—an imposing, threatening Mac Fyfe—and they do it with economy, commitment and nuance.

Michele Smith directs this with attention to the smallest detail and the largest ideas. We are quickly, smoothly drawn into this huge story that sweeps us along. Every relationship is established clearly and with every drop of emotion in place.

It is a daunting task to adapt Hugo’s novel for the stage and interesting to see what was cut and what was kept. Certainly Jean Valjean’s night of his tormented soul is vital, as he must decide to let another man be condemned for his crime or to confess to the crime himself. Conscience, integrity, truth, kindness and forgiveness are of paramount importance in this beautiful production.

Comment. Theatre Smith-Gilmour has been doing their unique kind of movement, mime and clown based theatre that also incorporates spoken word for forty years. They have brought (among others) Beckett, Faulkner and now Victor Hugo to the stage. Their productions are compellingly told, vibrant and full of humanity.  How special is that?

Theatre Smith-Gilmour present:

Opened: March 20, 2018.

Closes: April 1, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes. Approx.

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