Luvvies of Chester, fear not. The cultural scene in Chester, post 2016 when we have a new theatre, is in safe hands.
That’s if the talent of the bunch of teenagers who put on the schools version of Les Misérables at the Forum Studio Theatre last month was anything to go by.
The production of the Shönberg and Boublil hit musical was sold out for its 11-night run and I had to kill to get a ticket.
Tip Top Productions and director Simon Phillips had obviously scoured the city for the best singers and no one let them down. They dreamed a dream and it came true.
Aaron Bladen’s Jean Valjean, although diminutive in stature, stood up to Mitchell Strong’s enigmatic Javert, and the scene when he carried the much taller Marius (Dominic Melluish) through the sewers was an inspired use of lighting in this humble studio theatre.
Catriona Hogg brought a tear to the eye (and her own) as the ill-fated Fantine and Maisie McMahon gave a polished performance as Eponine.
But it was Annie Howarth who shone for me, bringing a maturity and intellect to the role of Cosette that I have rarely seen in professional productions. She wasn’t just the soppy cosseted ward of an over possessive ‘papa’. She showed the spirit and guts of the daughter of a fallen woman who had spent her formative years under the tyranny of diabolical foster parents.
And James Tudor-Jones and Abigail Sherratt brought more than just comedy to the roles of that very couple Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, It’s too easy to make Master of the House a bawdy free-for-all just for the laughs but both conveyed the ugliness, cynicism and downright evil that were portrayed on the pages of Victor Hugo’s novel.
But this isn’t just about the stars and the chorus of factory workers, whores, students and soldiers were just as much a part of the whole.
I recognised Alex Aram (Enjolras) from the Queen’s Park High School production of the same musical only last year. He must know the show inside out and back to front!
There was the odd moment when the action dipped and it felt as if we were just going from one great song to another but this is a challenging show, in a challenging space, and for the most part, they rose to that challenge.
Every time I go to the Forum I sigh as we pass the closed door to the ample space that was the old Gateway Theatre and squeeze together on not-so-comfy benches down in the bowels of the building.
Even the excellent band, made up of accomplished musicians from schools across the county, had to play in another room, inextricably linked to Mr Phillips via something that Doctor Who would be proud of.
I just hope and pray that when the new theatre arrives, these young people will be given a role to play in its success.