Les Misérables. January 2013.

Dear Rowley,

Devastating news that HMV has gone into liquidation, no? I was interviewing the fragrant Emma Willis today for a Rake feature. Her admittedly young team couldn’t understand why we old timers were so depressed by the demise of a CD and DVD shop. I didn’t admit that I still haven’t got over vinyl and  tried to explain that the iPod shuffle spits in the eye of artists who take months putting together a track list. The children didn’t understand until I said ‘it’s a journey’. I’m going to miss HMV so much.

I didn’t think online sales would slay the high street giants quite so swiftly. But I do know that a world of online shopping isn’t one I’d like to inhabit. Do we think society will improve when the entire nation types with one hand in the privacy of their own homes? Shopping is one of my great passions. I don’t care if it’s a chicken from Borough Market or a cashmere sweater. The joy is in engaging with London and, yes, talking to Londoners. T’Internet is isolating generations, racking up unemployment figures and nurturing a lazy, spoilt lot of sofa surfers.

Do you like the snowscape snap from my office window? It looks like a Victorian cemetery, no? The present Ice Age settling over London does give pause for thought when one has to stock up on essentials. I stepped out the door of Bloomsbury Towers the other morning at 7am en route to the gym in a hoodie, cycling shorts and trainers and the bin man gave me a wolf whistle. He followed this up with ‘Cor, that’s hardcore’. Now had I been doing the Cresta Run in a mink bikini I would have understood all the fuss. Still, the words ‘colder’, ‘witch’s’ and ‘tit’ do spring to mind.

A word of advice Rowley. If you’re not feeling as merry as a grig at the moment don’t under any circumstances go and see Les Misérables at the flicks. I’ve never seen it on stage so didn’t know what we were in for. Within the hour we’ve witnessed Anne Hathaway’s Fantine mercilessly thrown out onto the streets and forced to sell her hair and teeth to various old crones to keep up the maintenance payments on her illegitimate daughter Cosette. The poor dear descends into dockside prostitution and is filmed singing (live in close-up in one take) that old Susan Boyle classic I Dreamed A Dream.

Harrowing isn’t even in it: so harrowing in fact that Oscar glory beckons for Miss Hathaway. This as it transpired was just the beginning of almost three-hours of abject misery and power ballads. Some fared better than others recording the soundtrack live. I rather fell in love with Eddie Redmayne’s Marius and Amanda Seyfried’s Cosette. If a director ever feels the need to remake a Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy movie, I am sure Eddie and Amanda could do a lovely Donkey Serenade.

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the vicious, slatternly Monsieur and Madame Thénardier give one somebody to root for. It must be a boon for the costume designers that Miss Bonham Carter simply comes as she is. You know I adore a good musical but Les Mis has never been a favourite score. Samantha Barks’s Eponine is a revelation and one can’t help but adore Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean the convict after a Damascene conversion.

I’ve never been a fan of child actors. It probably goes back to Margaret Mitchell trying and failing to steal Meet Me in St Louis from Judy Garland. I did think the little Cosette dragging her bucket into the haunted forest was rather sweet but as for ‘cheeky scamp’ Gavroche, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh like a drain when he takes a musket bullet between the eyebrows on the barricades.

Russell Crowe as vengeful gaoler Javert isn’t given an awful lot of motivation for pursuing Valjean to his grave. Every time he pops up twirling a moustache and swearing revenge you think of Vic Reeves: ‘you wouldn’t let it lie, would you?’

Perhaps I am too much of a cynic for Les MisCabaret is much more more me. Better Half bagged two front centre dress circle tickets for the revival at the Savoy Theatre last night. I think I wrote to you when the cast was announced that I couldn’t imagine Will Young in the role of the Emcee. Eat my words. The boy is made for the West End stage. He pouts, mugs, leers, snarls, thrusts and charms until the entire auditorium is utterly captivated.

As you know I adore Cabaret. It is my movie. It is impossible to contemplate Cabaret without Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles. The only way to own the part is to take it back to the Isherwood original and play her as a deluded, pert and pretty English girl lost in Berlin without the intelligence to sense that naughtiness is descending into evil. This Michelle Ryan doesShe gets away with Mein Herr (not in the original stage musical) but struggled with Maybe This Time and that anthem to desperate self-delusion Cabaret.

The production was as dirty and dangerous as one would wish. There’s nothing quite as entertaining as a chorus line in black leather shorts with the boys in sock garters. It’s quite an achievement to leave a theatre feeling thoroughly satisfied when the final tableau is naked bodies writhing in a gas chamber. This is Will Young’s compliment. Though I never thought I’d write it, Will Young erases the memory of Joel Grey as the Emcee.