Sunday, September 16, 2012

Return of the Replica

Keeping in mind it's now only a year to go until Les Misérables premieres in Tampereen Teatteri, I thought it's time to do some background research.

I of course knew that Georg Malvius, who directed Åbo Svenska Teater's Les Mis and will direct TT's, had done the show once before [edited to add: maybe twice? I found a mention about a production in Tallinn, but can't find any info about it]. Earlier, though, I didn't much care about that production. It was 2007, it was somewhere in German, it's not my problem...
But today, I figured that checking out how closely Malvius's Füssen production of the musical corresponds to ÅST's Les Mis might give me a hint at how closely TT's will, in turn, resemble ÅST.

So, I took a look.

Okay, to be fair, every Javert everywhere always looks the same.
Curiously, our Cosette inherited their Mme Thénardier's dress.

There is more, but on a site that doesn't permit copying their photos. If you want to see, follow the links to compare the Füssen set with the ÅST set. Or how about the white costumes the dead characters wore for the finale? Yep, old news.

Oooooh boy.
Remember me hating replicas for a full blog post earlier this year?
Yeah. My favourite production of all times just turned out to be one. 

I feel a bit – wonder if disappointed is the right word? Naturally, I assumed there were similarities in Malvius's previous work and ÅST Les Mis. And to be fair, the productions certainly aren't 100% the same, even when only judging by the photos. Seeing I can't find but one video from Füssen, I can't know if the acting choices were similar at all.
But still... I somehow imagined ÅST Les Mis was an original, something never seen before. How wrong I was. Many major motives I thought were unique to ÅST were actually repeats from the Füssen version. The tree that serves as a backdrop to every scene and becomes a part of the barricade. The little bridge on the right side of the stage. The doors with scenery in mock tile wall on the left. The doorways in mock stone wall on the right. The golden frames surrounding the stage. The white costumes for the dead characters. Even the colours of the lights during certain scenes...

All in all, I don't think this is very promising when you think about the upcoming TT production.

Again, this is pure speculation. But, looking at the two productions, it's impossible not to notice they're by the same creative team. For example: even when two versions of the same character's costume aren't exactly identical, Ellen Cairns's style is still so similar in both that you could swap the outfits without no one noticing.
There's been talk of the ÅST (and Füssen) Les Mis creative team being transported to TT as a whole, not just the director. I've no doubt they're all talented and versatile people. But still, I'm afraid the temptation to take the easiest route and do what was successful the previous two times is too strong.
We've heard the reasons. It was easier to get Cameron Mackintosh's blessing for the production by promising it'll be similar to the popular ÅST one. But still – I just hope they remember how small a country Finland is. When replicating, for a Finnish stage, an obscure German production that only ran for a month, chances are no one here has seen the original. But, as we know, Les Mis was ÅST's biggest success to date, there were certainly more than a handful of people who saw it. And Tampere is not that far from Turku...

TT Les Mis, please: surprise us.

Or at least fix the translation.
ÅST photos taken by Nana Simelius and Robert Seger. Füssen press photos from here, originally from Photos scanned from the newspaper by Jan van der Velden. Füssen barricade photo from here, Füssen Javert screencapped from here. As always, hover over the photos for specific info.
This site was a valuable source for this entry.


  1. I think I understand your feelings. Some years ago I realized I was disappointed that Tanz der Vampire, the musical I had learned to love so much, was everywhere similar. It felt somehow... less unique, less my own. I started to look for the smallest differences in productions and was happy every time I noticed something that was in "my" production (in this case the Hungarian one) but not in others.

    As for Les Mis, I'm happy that such a good production gets the attention and life it deserves, but I still hope TT will improve something, because no production is ever perfect. Also the actors are bound to be different, so I hope the directing will be adapted so that it leaves room for their own interpretations. I don't know if Malvius always does that, hopefully he does because sensible directors do and he seems like a sensible one, but some don't and I hate it.

    1. I guess everyone's hipster enough to dislike their favourite thing becoming mainstream... ;) Seriously though, yeah, I have a bit of that "it's not my own anymore" feeling too, I feel you...

      True - keeping my fingers crossed!

  2. I think I understand where you're coming from. Nothing is ever as good as it was in the past. It can be the same, but it's not the same. I know how it feels to have someone assimilate what is uniquely yours... everyone likes to be different.

    But it sounds like your ÅST's Les Mis was successful, and something a coworker of mine is always saying: emulate success. Also, there's a positive aspect because there will be people who didn't see the old one who'll get to see this one. Think about your own experience. It may be your show was heavily influenced by that first one, but you love that show! Would you have rather never seen it just because it had already been done before? I know what you're saying... too soon... too close. Maybe it would be better if they'd waited a bit longer to do it.

    This has been my poor attempt at cheering you up. Try not to go in with too many expectations, good or bad. I do hope you get to see something different and still fantastic!

    1. I know what you're saying. Since I loved this replica here so much, why wouldn't I want to let others see the same version? Yeah... I'm certain a replica would be be amazing for those who never saw the ÅST production, but yes, as you say - too soon, too close. I'm afraid, if there's something similar to ÅST in store next year, the part of the audience who saw the show in ÅST already will feel disappointed.
      And of course, I'm being a bit selfish here: 13 times the same show, I'm personally starting to look forward seeing something different for a chance!

      But still, good points! I'll certainly try to keep the expectations down to a minimum, hard as it is... :)