Les Misérables

A very short history on its ‘invisible’ choreography.

This work is now so famous and historic it is hard to realise that it had beginnings and a struggle to find its form as the iconoclastic musical it has become. I was part of the original team who created Les Miserables at the RSC in 1985. Although my billing was musical staging, this title covered a multitude of activities across the two months of its making. The working process was fascinating. Rather than choreograph numbers, I created improvisations, which became part of the language and movement material of the staging. I worked on body language for whores, convicts, the angry unemployed and malnourished beggars. I taught the cast to waltz and created the dance of death, which snakes across the stage as Thenardier beguiles the bourgeoisie at Marius and Cosette’s wedding. I made soggy-bottomed peasant dances – subtle interventions for the Prologue and the Thenardier Inn as dances which looked improvised and spontaneous but not choreographed. I invented a way to march, which gives the illusion of advancing without going anywhere and so the group gathered around and led by Enjolras and intent on changing the world, remains centre stage during the searing and majestic ‘One Day More’.

I discovered a lot as the work unfolded  – particularly about musicals – but also about working with not just one but two brilliant directors – each of whom offered challenges on a daily if not hourly basis. They shared a passion for staging the seemingly unstageable. Their working process had been well tried, however on the fabulous Nicholas Nickelby and Peter Pan at the RSC and they brought their storytelling skills and deeply creative approach to the unfolding phenomenon of Les Mis. I also discovered the extraordinary musical and acting talents of the original cast who worked creatively and arduously on the never ending revisions and re-shaping of the work. The technical rehearsals seemed to last forever and many rehearsal room ideas were scrapped in order to integrate the action with the remarkable set designed by John Napier. Costume changes in and out of the many character guises, were I recall a particular challenge.

The production went 10541573763_ce353969b0_cthrough further modifications and developments not only in London but small additions came from contributions of performers around the globe. With each new cast, the work is re-created with the performers learning -not set moves- but how to play the story of Les Mis within the framework of the production. And so the work evolves and stays alive.

For domestic reasons I did not go to New York with the production in 1986 but did finally visit briefly in 1998 to re-stage the Wedding as it is now in the London production with the added Quadrilles. I returned to work though all the original movement material once again with the 2006 New York production. I was part of the two British No. 1 tour productions – one starting at the Palace in Manchester and another from Plymouth. I also have a relationship with two Tokyo productions and particularly enjoyed these times and working with the double cast ensembles. I also worked on the productions in Duisberg (where?) Amsterdam and Paris, which was like bringing it home. I also visit to work with each new cast change and work with the current Associate and Resident directors at the Queens Theatre.

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