By Lory Diaz
Theatre Smith-Gilmour is currently presenting Les Miserables at The Theatre Centre, located at 1115 Queen Street West, running until Sunday April 1, 2018. Torontonicity was invited to a preview performance earlier this month, and enjoyed Director Michele Smith’s adaptation of the 19th century classic novel by Victor Hugo. If you’re a supporter of the performance arts, community development, and ingenuity, you should definitely check this production out.
Les Miserables tells the story of a handful of characters connected or touched by the life of ex-convict Jean Valjean, who is seeking to redeem himself for past mistakes. As in every great literary work, these stories are told against the backdrop of a much larger socio-political theme: the strife and turmoil France experienced during the early half of the 1800s.
Smith’s production of Les Mis is not a musical and has only six cast members, with no set or décor, and limited costumes or props. If you haven’t been to a performance at a venue such as the Theatre Centre, you may find the intimate stage shocking, but the performances from the cast will immediately win you over.
I have to start with Dean Gilmour (Jean Valjean), who opens the play. Despite having a stark black background, and a single spotlight, his movements and intention are so clear that imagining an entire scene surrounding his character(s) unfolds with such ease. His tone is also so clear, and no matter where he is on stage, he grabs the audience’s attention!
It wasn’t only Dean Gilmour who turned in an outstanding performance; the entire cast has fantastic chemistry and demonstrates a true theatrical bond. Nina Gilmour as both Fantine and Cosette is intense and passionate. Her transformation between the two characters happens on stage, and is still so shocking in the most delightful way.
I have to applaud Lighting Designer Simon Rossiter as well. The ingenious way in which his lighting created movement on stage with slight transitions in colour, or intensity, made a dramatic difference in how a scene was perceived. The lighting was so vital to this production’s success that it almost felt like a seventh supporting cast member. At one point, we see Valjean crouched in a corner, and a single spotlight with a grid pattern immediately identifies him travelling through the underground sewers. Brilliant!
The minimal props, lack of a fixed set design, and small cast meant that costume played a critical role in identifying the various characters. Costume Designer Victoria Wallace selected pieces reminiscent of the era and demonstrated the characters’ socio-economic status: Cosette starts with rags and no footwear as a child, but later in life she wears a luxurious velvet dress with leather shoes.
There was only one set choice that threw me off: leading up to the rebellion scene, a white curtain is drawn across the stage on to which images are projected, and stunts the performances area, making the cast appear significantly closer to the audience. This works very well during the violent scene that is meant to feel frantic, but it pulled me out of the play in the moment it was pulled across the stage. The stark white background made me acutely aware of production limitations, which had never factored in until that very moment.
Overall, Theatre Smith-Gilmour has created a strong production of Les Miserables, and is absolutely worth seeing as a fan and supporter of the arts. The strength of the cast alone is worth the cost of admission. If you do stop by, make sure to take a look at the baked treats in the Theatre Centre café, and grab yourself a scone – they’re my fave! Enjoy the show!
Les Miserables at the Theatre Centre in Toronto is being performed from March 16 to April 1, 2018. Tickets are Previews $20; Matinees $25; Student/arts worker $30; Adult $40. Call 416-538-0988 or purchase online.