This year, there are quite a few parody shows at Reading Fringe Festival, there’s one about Alien, one about Sigmund Freud and now, one taking on the much loved musical Les Misérables. Les Pissérables is a two-man parody musical which recreates and ridicules some of the most iconic characters, scenes and songs from the film version. It features toilet humour, parody songs and fun.
Find out more about the mad-cap musical as I talk to its Reading-born writer and star Martin Jakeman (pictured above) about his twisted homage to Les Misérables, Russell Crowe’s singing voice and why he’s passionate about fringe festivals.
What’s your background in theatre?
For me it all started when I was younger after seeing my year one teacher in a pantomime at Shinfield Players Theatre. In the years following I joined the Shinfield Players Youth Group, and I’m now studying Drama at the University of Winchester. That’s also where I met my Les Pissérables partner in crime Jemima Evans. Whilst at Winchester I developed my love for writing (which as a Dyslexic I thought I would never have). I now take great pleasure in writing shows. At the end of June this year my show Hamalot!-The Hamlet Panto won the Top Hat Competition at Winchester’s Hat Fair. I’m looking forward to hopefully bring it to Reading Fringe next year too.
So, what can audiences expect from Les Pissérables?
The main thing they can expect is to laugh, a lot! We have worked hard creating a balance of jokes about Les Mis, awful puns, toilet humour and moments that rely on physicality. The show is performed by me and Jemima, we’re clowning characters who make our way through the story whilst mocking and reinventing some of the most well known and much loves moments. It is a true extravaganza of parody, laughter and rough theatre!
Les Misérables is one of the UK’s best loved musicals, what was it that made you want to take it down?
Well, it all started with a bench. We were in a lecture on parody tasked to create a short sketch. We grabbed a nearby bench and began improvising around it, then one of us suggested the name Less Miserables and to create a Les Mis where everyone is overly happy.
Then we had our eureka moment and thought of Les Pissérables. We wanted the sketch to play with some of our favourite moments from the film, like Javert when he makes the OTT crunch as he hits the water from the bridge. We knew that most people would have seen the film or the stage show, we loved it, the class loved it so we thought it was the ideal show! Les Pissérables to us is a lot of fun because we get to play the fools and pay a twisted homage to Les Misérables.
The original musical is also three hours, how do you condense your show?
It took a long time to work out what we would keep and what we wanted to cut. The original version of Les Pis was only seven minutes long! We started by deciding what we couldn’t cut as it would change the story line, from there we just started playing and creating.
Which of the famous songs have you adapted?
Well, that would be telling wouldn’t it! You’ll have to come along and see for yourself. We perform most of the big hits but they usually end in chaos. Our favourite is ‘One Day More’ – with only two of us, it requires a lot of energy to perform all the characters!
Do you sing better than Russell Crowe?
Ahhhhh dearest Russell, he gave it a good shot. My question back to you would be who sang better, Russell Crowe in the film of Les Misérables or Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia? We are lucky enough have our very own Russell Crowe in our show and I’m sure if you come along and see it, you’ll agree he’s just as good (or is it bad?) as the real thing!
What do you like about fringe festivals?
I love the buzz that comes with it, everyone there to see the arts, it’s brilliant! Personally, I love parodies and comic re-imaginings so fringes are one of the best places for it. Fringes aren’t really the best place to make a profit (but where is in the arts?!) so the people there really do have the passion for what they are doing. Groups may be running at a loss, but they are there because it’s what they LOVE doing! Fringes are playful, witty and have a terrific sense of community, they are terrific!
You’re originally from Reading, what are your favourite things to do here?
Tough one. I really like exploring the waterways that run through and around Reading. The town is steeped in history, for example the three Bs heritage (if you don’t know what it is, look it up, I promise you’ll find it interesting!). I’ll always call Reading my home as that’s where I was born and bred which is why it means a lot that the first Fringe Festival I will be performing in is Reading Fringe Festival!
Can you hear the people sing?
We can always hear the people sing! Whether it’s a few lone voices, 48% or even the mighty stands at Madejski Stadium belting out Sweet Caroline.
Les Pissérables is at the Penta Hotel on Saturday 28 July at 8.15pm. Tickets are £10. Book tickets.
Hello! I'm Claire, the founding editor of Explore Reading. I'm a Reading native and former digital director of Time Out Shanghai. I founded Explore Reading so no one can say, ‘there’s nothing to do in Reading’, again. When not editing Explore Reading, I'm probably drinking a Manhattan.