Tim Gibbs, Les Misérables

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Tim Gibbs is playing the role of Jean Valjean in the highly acclaimed musical, Les Misérables, which Taree Arts Council are presenting at the Manning Entertainment Centre from 2nd to 18th November 2018. 

Tim, congratulations on scoring the lead role of Jean Valjean in what will undoubtedly be an amazing production. Can you give us a bit of an insight into the character you play?

When we first meet Valjean, he is a broken man with little hope, having been released from jail after serving 19 years under the harshest of circumstances. After struggling to find work and a place to live, he is shown compassion and mercy by the Bishop of Digne – whom Valjean thanks by stealing silver from – but after being arrested again, the Bishop informs the police that Valjean did not steal from him but instead was gifted the silver. The Bishop tells Valjean to use the silver to become an honest man. After coming to an emotional realisation, Valjean breaks his parole to carve out a new life for himself in the service of others – the result being that Valjean spends the majority of the rest of his life on the run from Javert, a Police Captain hell bent on bringing Valjean to justice for having broken his parole. 

The story covers a period of about 20 years or so during which time Valjean adopts a child (Cossette) and gets caught up in the “School Boy Revolution”, which is the mid-19th Century France version of Schoolies. 

Is there anything you particularly love or loathe about your character?

Valjean is a part I have wanted to play for about 15 or 20 years. For me, it is one of my two bucket list roles, with the other being Phantom. Valjean is a man who risked everything to save others and accepted the consequences. He is a man who made a promise and keeps it to his dying breath – a man who is looking for redemption and, though he struggles at times and does make a couple of poor choices, his heart is in the right place. 

I have loved being able to bring a range of emotions to the role, which has turned out to be incredibly physical. He gets roughed up quite a bit, and a few of us have had more than our fair share of bruises and scrapes along the way, but it is so worth it! “The Confrontation” is one of my favourite scenes. I think the audience will really enjoy that one!

The style of music in Les Misérables could be described as classical – even slightly operatic. Have you found this to be a challenge at all, or is it something you’re very comfortable with?

Having been a Vocal Coach for around eight years now and singing for over 30 years, I have to say that it has been easier than expected in a lot of ways, and more challenging in others. 

I mentioned before that the role is extremely physical – and this is no understatement! It is so important for me to deliver an honest and authentic performance, which means that moments of high passion and emotion are sung with great vigour in contrast to the calmer and quieter moments during Bring Him Home, for example, which sees Valjean praying to God to spare the life of Marius in the battle to come. 

You have had an amazing background so far, which includes training at some of the UK’s top Music and Theatre Schools, as well as performing on the London West End, so music and theatre is obviously in your blood. When did you decide that you wanted to be in music and theatre, and what highlights did you experience during your years in the UK?

I was eight years old when I first set foot on the professional stage with the English National Opera in Fallstaff, and was lucky enough to have shared the stage with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. I had performed in other shows with the ENO since, but I had never actually been in the audience of a professional show until I was 13, when I saw Blood Brothers in the West End – and it was in that moment that I knew I wanted to be on the stage. 

I have been very fortunate to have been trained by some of the best in the industry. I graduated Theatre School in London and was awarded a one year scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music majoring in Voice, and from there went straight in to work on the professional stage in London’s West End, working in shows like Grease, Oliver and the world premiere of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, alongside Michael Ball. I spent some time working in television and film, with small roles in shows like The Bill, EastEnders, as well as some bigger films like Gladiator and Star Wars Episode I.

Your career has no doubt changed since moving to the Mid North Coast. What have you done in the 10 years since moving to the area?

It was family that initially brought me to Australia, and I have spent the last 11 years raising a large family – seven children, in fact, between my wife, Nikki and I, so it is crazy busy all the time. In 2010 I set up Centre Stage Theatre Factory, a theatre school bring all sorts of acting, music and performing arts skills to people of all ages and ability. 

Truly one of the best experiences I have had is seeing nervous and shy kids blossom and burst with confidence after just a few classes. I now teach singing, drama and music classes at Stacey Lee’s Centre Stage with Stacey Evans (Eponine) as well as in Port Macquarie at my singing school, Vocal Revolution.

What other productions have you been involved in locally?

I have kept my theatrical toes in the water, appearing in local productions at both Players Theatre in Port Macquarie and Taree Arts Council, where I appeared as Chris in Miss Saigon in 2010. Players Theatre credits include The Boy From Oz, Little Shop of Horrors and The Odd Couple. 

In 2017 I had my directorial debut with the hugely successful musical Into the Woods, where I directed the fantastic David Stephens, who played the Baker and will be starring in Les Misérables as the scoundrel Inn Keeper, Thenardier. I am very keen to direct again in the near future, though I think a break will be in order after Les Misérables. 

Tell us what you love most about the Mid North Coast?

To be honest, everything is just amazing. The Mid North Coast has been so kind to me over my short time here, and I really couldn’t pin what I love most down to just one, or even 100 things. Our region has afforded me the ability to do what I love most, and that is to entertain people, and when I am done, head down the beach to run around with my kids. 

What do you do in your downtime?

With a family as large as ours, there is very little downtime. But in those fleeting moments I will often just play on the piano or listen to some music, close my eyes and unwind.

Last words?

Les Misérables has very recently celebrated 33 years since it first opened on the West End in London, and it truly is a global phenomenon. It has been performed in 42 countries around the world and translated into 21 languages, and has been seen by more than 57 million people worldwide. 

Our version has been one of the hardest and most rewarding shows I have been involved with. Our Director, Gayle Cameron, and our Music Director, Don Secomb, have really worked us hard to make sure we can tell this story as it was meant to be told. I am so proud to be a part of our huge team, working alongside experienced performers, as well as some cast who will be stepping on to the stage for the very first time. Everyone who can should see the show. Everyone will take something away with them, as Les Misérables tells so many different stories but resolves them to one singular vision … hope!

Thanks Tim.

Interview: Ingrid Bayer.

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