Ever since third form, Matthew L (Bd) has dreamed of starring in a production of his favourite musical, Les MisérablesNow in the Upper Sixth that dream became a reality in February when he played the lead role of Jean Valjean over three consecutive nights in the G.W.A Performing Arts Centre in front of sold-out audiences of over 900.

Matthew, who is a drama student and Drama Prefect, spent the whole summer practising for his audition for the role.  He says: “It was my chance to play a big, iconic role. Last year I regretted not preparing for the audition for the annual school musical so I was determined to put the hours in this time and, thankfully, it paid off”.

Auditions took place in September 2023 to create a large, inclusive cast of 62 pupils.  Every fifth former and above who auditioned was given a part in the production and even those in the ensemble had clear motivation, characterisation and usually at least one solo line.  Eight pupils were part of the backstage and technical team including one fourth form Deputy Stage Manager, pupils controlling the spotlights and a student running the revolve.

Matthew, his fellow cast members and the crew rehearsed for five months, at least twice if not three times a week, to ensure that everyone felt fully confident.  Every rehearsal was recorded so that pupils could access the footage afterwards and pupils had access to the RehearScore app so that they could practise their harmony lines.

Each pupil had a 1-1 fitting and measuring appointment for their costumes with Production Administrator, Jennie Douglas who has film and TV experience in costume and make-up. Matthew says, “The professionalism of the whole experience enhanced our confidence and motivated us to perfect our performances.  Every actor had at least three different costumes and there were many quick changes to navigate. At one point, Jennie had to fit a wig on my head in less than two minutes!”

As the production approached, Director of Music, Sean Farrell, arranged for the leads to have a singing and acting workshop with West End Musical Director, Alex Aitken to boost their confidence and teach them practical techniques. Alex helped Matthew to hone his performance of ‘Bring Him Home’ and understand the subtleties and shape of the song.

Before the main evening performances, pupils from sixteen local prep and state secondary schools were invited to watch a free matinee preview of the show. This packed preview helped to prepare the cast and received fantastic feedback. 

The final, polished performances of Les Misérables had an incredible reaction with three full standing ovations for the cast each night.

Matthew said: “It was easily the best week of my entire life. We were so well rehearsed that I barely felt nervous and I just had a feeling of giddy excitement. Getting cast and receiving such brilliant feedback has boosted my confidence and strengthened my resolve to pursue a career in this area. Performing my favourite musical with some of my closest friends in front of my parents and family members is an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.”   

The whole experience has confirmed Matthew’s desire to pursue a career in the arts. He plans to spend his gap year auditioning for acting opportunities before hopefully applying to drama school. 

As well as providing pupils and staff with the chance to be part of a West-End standard musical production, Les Misérables was also a hugely successful fundraising initiative. All of the tickets sold out in less than two weeks and £16,340 was raised across the three nights with 100% of the proceeds going to support arts initiatives at local schools through the Wellington College Arts Fund.

The excitement around this incredible production shows no signs of abating. Wellington College’s Les Misérables has been nominated for best production at the National Theatre Schools Awards and the cast has been invited to perform a section at the awards night on 24th June.  They will also perform extracts from the production on Speech Day and were given out some well-deserved awards at our black-tie ‘Welling Tonys’.

Find out more about The Arts at Wellington College