Last night I went with our eldest daughter to see Les Miserables. It was a lovely Christmas gift to me from her and her husband. We went to dinner and then the show. I really enjoyed going out with her.
So much of this theatre I would hope to build into the culture of a family, of a neighbourhood, of a school.
Firstly, it is a production that respects its audience. It expects us to understand multiple plot lines that cover the breadth of human experience: political action, theological wondering and religious belief, personal romance, friendship, unrequited love. None is dismissed. Each is respected. It expects us to consider how they overlap and conflict, entwine and yet matter in and of themselves. With its music and song it expects us to be both aesthetic and ontological beings. I pray this for my family. I would hope any school of which I am a part would expect this of its students.
Secondly, it takes as a theme the importance for each of us of our outward and inward selves. When Plato retells Herodotus in The Republic he focuses on the tale of the Ring of Gyges. Gyges is a peasant who comes across the strange grave of an ancient king. He takes his ring: it gives him the power to become invisible. Using this power he is able to win over the queen, kill the king and usurp power. Plato’s point is that we each have a ring like Gyges’. We each have facades that we display in order to gain power. At minimum calculation, and at worst deceit, is the base of human consciousness. The wonderful thing therefore about Les Miserables is that the whole script in soliloquy. We are given direct access to the honest selves of the characters: the persons behind the masks. As humans we love this – we want the truth, not simply that which people tell us. The play is set up to reveal the truth about everyone: Marius’ love, Jean Val Jean’s anger, repentance and goodness, Epinome’s pathos at not having her love returned, Javier’s reliance on The Law, the comic couple’s duplicity and criminality and the revolutionaries’ zeal. The audience sees people how God sees them.I would like to build a school where we seek to build trust and honesty. The play recognises the challenge brought to us as humans in this endeavour- as Plato notices, we want justice for ourselves whilst maintaining the capacity to act unjustly if it suits us. Yet it also highlights how important trust is to us. Love, justice, grace: these themes draw us in. I would hope our schools would really value these things and not just leave students becoming clever at wearing the Ring of Gyges.
Thirdly, it is a play about prayer. Everyone prays.Javier prays that God will create a world of order and proper recompense. The corrupt couple shout a prayer at God in anger at his distance in allowing them to become villains. And Jean Val Jean prays a prayer of grace and sacrifice. He is willing to die himself if Marius can live. This beautiful prayer of the father for the son, of the mother for the daughter, of the present for the future, would be my prayer for my family, for our neighbours, for our students. That they might live. In every sense of the word that they might live.
And finally it is a play about redemption. Even though poverty remains, and its agony is not diminished; even though the Law that is meant to bring justice breeds criminality and despair; even though the human cost is great, there is redemption. To love another person is to see the face of God. And it is this internal change that matters. It matters that the individual learns to love. I would hope to be part of a family and to lead a school where people learn to love. And it is explicit and implicit in the script that we love because God first loved us.
So thank you Chelsea for taking me to see Les Miserables. It was, in your words, magnificent.