Les Miserable – The Dispossessed

Her Majesties Theatre
There are actually a few stories that I can tell you about my experience with this play, one of them involving traveling halfway around the world just so that I could see it (because if the show finished I knew I would end up kicking myself to no end). However, after I had spent the $2000.00 odd dollars on a round-trip ticket to London I then discovered that I was coming to Australia. Mind you, that didn’t phase me one bit because I still got to have an awesome holiday in Europe.

Me at Europlaz

I’m not sure if the European Central Bank can be considered a tourist attraction

Honestly, I am not really a big fan of musicals because many of them don’t really appeal to me. In fact I can probably count the number of musicals that I have seen on one hand: Wicked, West Side Story, The Wizard of Oz, Spamalot, and of course Les Miserables (which I have seen three times, not counting the movie). I wasn’t really all that interested in seeing it until my first trip to London because the posters that dotted the Tube constantly jumped out at me to the point that by the time I was ready to leave I had this strange yearning to see it (much in the same way that I went and saw Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels because I had spent half an hour staring at the poster while waiting for a train in Sydney). So, when the film was released I went and saw it, and after a very teary ending, knew that my goal in life was to go an watch it performed on stage.
Apparently, according to Wikipedia, Les Miserables is the second longest running musical in the world (with a continuous running from October 1984 to October 2014), and the second longest running West End Show (after the Mousetrap). It is also the longest running West End production, with Phantom of the Opera coming in second (I decided not to see that when I was in London because, well, there was plenty of other things to do and musicals are not really all that high on my list – though I would like to see Cats).
Okay, enough of my exploits because one of the reasons that I write is because I love to explore the themes and ideas that come out of the play. Mind you, the first time I saw it I was only focusing on the songs because, well, after watching the movie I really liked the songs and I wanted to see them performed live. However, I feel that that is not really the way to watch a musical – I did the same the second time I saw Wicked and I really didn’t enjoy it, but when I saw it a third time I focused instead on the story and ended up getting a lot more out of it.
The songs are still really good, and I still end up singing along as I am watching the play (when I am not bawling my eyes out that is – I always cry when I see this musical). So, this post probably wouldn’t be the same without a Youtube video of one of the songs:
One of the things that I can say about Les Miserables (or should I use the Australian title – Les Mis?) is that the plot is not simple. Sure, I heard that it was about how a police officer, Javert, relentlessly pursues an ex-convict, Jean Valjean, and also about how Jean Valjean steals some silverware from a church and the priest then proceeds to hand him the candlesticks claiming that they were a gift. However it is much, much more complex than that, with a love triangle, a failed revolution, the exploits of a gang of thieves, as well as the rescue of a young girl from virtual slavery.
Along with the plot, the story explores numerous concepts such as the nature of revolution, the struggle of the poor in 19th Century France, the nature of mercy, and the tragedy of the relentless pursuit of the law and justice. The title gives a strong hint as to what the play is about. Not knowing French I must once again resort to Wikipedia for a translation (since the English version uses the original French title). It actually has numerous meanings – the miserable ones, the poor ones, or the title that I used for this post, the dispossessed. A part of me thought maybe it means ‘the sorrows’ however it seems that the word in referring to people as opposed to an abstract noun.
The second time I saw this musical I noticed that much of it was about the misery of the characters. Jean Valjean was trying desperately to turn his life around, but nobody was giving him the opportunity to do so. The only person who actually showed him mercy was the priest, but even then he had to create a new identity to be able to do this, and despite this new identity, he still had the mark of the criminal tattooed to his chest. Then we have Fantine, the mother of Corsette, who is struggling to pay for the upkeep of her daughter, but is constantly harassed by the men at her work, and then forced into prostitution to be able to make ends meet. We also have Eponine, the daughter of the Thenardier’s (you know, the two crooks made famous by the song ‘Master of the House’), who is in love with Marius, but who’s love is not returned. There is also Marius, who must go through the heartbreak of knowing that all of his friends were killed in the failed uprising.
This time the thing that jumped out at me was the nature of revolution. Revolution doesn’t seem to come out of the poorer classes, but rather out of the middle class. This is effectively what has happened with most revolutions in history. Successful revolutions generally involve the middle class recruiting the support of the poorer classes so as to effectively change the political structure. The thing is that with revolutions the poor don’t actually get anything out of it. It doesn’t matter whether they support it or not, they simply go on being poor. This is probably why Marius and his friends were looked on with scorn, since they were described as being ‘bourgeoisie slumming it’. The same thing happened during the French revolution. It wasn’t the poor revolting against the aristocracy, it was the middle class – the bourgeoisie – who rebelled against the ruling establishment, however the reason that the revolution was successful was because the poorer classes participated.

I think I’ll finish this post off here, though there is probably quite a lot more that I could write about with regards to this story. There is also the book, which is huge (and I am sure that one day I might end up reading it, but since there is a lot of other books that I wish to read first, this one sinks to the bottom of the pile – anyway it might end up spoiling the play, despite there being quite a lot more content than what is outlined in the musical), and I am sure to see it again, if it is still showing in London if and when I ever get back there (though the last time I went there I ended up having to book the ticket two months in advance, and managed to get the last seat in the house).

Further Reading

A great blog post in the Theology of Les Miserable and our response to the poor. 
A great justification as to why the recent movie wasn’t as bad as some people make it out to be.

A brutally honest, and rather hilarious, look at one blogger’s favourite parts of the movie (and book). 
An excellent summary of the history behind the revolution at the end of the story.
An interesting post on the person behind the character of Javert.
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2 thoughts on “Les Miserable – The Dispossessed

  1. “The thing is that with revolutions the poor don’t actually get anything out of it. It doesn’t matter whether they support it or not,”

    Astute observation. In the wars for independence in South America early 1800’s , native Indian people and peasants did the infantry fighting and were no better off after independence as the native born aristocracy merely replaced the colonial government with the same oppression.


    1. Thankyou, I’ve never looked too deeply into the revolutions of South America, but your statement does not surprise me in the least.
      It is why I always shake my head when somebody says to me ‘when the revolution comes …’


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