Review: The Hunchback Of Notre Dame

3 star rating
Victor Hugo's well-known story gets a fun and entertaining remake from an engaging ensemble of actor-musicians providing mirth, music and audience participation.
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame at Iris Theatre

Image courtesy Iris Theatre


Theatre: Iris Theatre

Closes here: Sunday 1 September 2019

Author:
Benjamin Polya's adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel

Composer:
Matthew Malone

Director:
Bertie Watkins

Cast:

Robert Rhodes - Quasimodo

Izzy Jones - Esmeralda

Max Alexander-Taylor - Phoebus

Ed Bruggemeyer - Frollo

Darrie Gardner - Sister Gudule

Katie Tranter - Fleur


Synopsis


This vibrant, outdoor production of Victor Hugo's epic tale of injustice, survival and love will be a spectacular adventure for all the family.


In 1482, in the shadows of Notre Dame Cathedral, a priest and a hunchback both fall for the mysterious and beautiful Esmerelda; but all she wants is to find her long-lost mother.


When the unhappy pair try to take matters into their own hands they set off a chain of events that no one can control.


Paris throbs with the threat of rebellion.


The mob breaks against the walls of the cathedral.


Will the hunchback find true love?


Will the priest save his soul?


And will it take the people of Paris to save Esmerelda?


This summer, in the grounds of St Paul's Church in Covent Garden, join Esmerelda and the hunchback as the colourful world of mediaeval Paris is brought to life in Benjamin Polya's adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Wednesday 7 August 2019
Review star rating image

"Magical" said a woman to her friend as we filed round a rose bush to take our seats for the first scene after the interval.


Since my (usually adept) eavesdropping didn't catch the earlier part of the conversation, I'm not actually sure if the lady in question was referring to the play or the location (or even if she was referring to something entirely different).


But I suspect she was describing the setting, because I have probably used a similar expression in relation to this venue on previous occasions.


For this is promenade theatre that takes place in the lovely gardens of the imposing St Paul's Church which fronts onto the piazza in Covent Garden and resides within London's famous theatreland.


Productions here take place largely in the open air - though the shows generally find their climax within the hallowed confines of the church itself.


And that proves pretty-well perfect for the setting for this current show - a reworking of Victor Hugo's well-known story about a church bellringer, lost children, superstition, lust, love, outsiders, injustice and much else besides.


Set in the medieval Paris of 1482, Victor Hugo's complex story, first published in 1831, focuses on bellringer Quasimodo and vivacious gypsy Esmerelda who is desired by a gaggle of male admirers including the hunchback's boss Frollo, the Archdeacon of Notre Dame.


Obsessed with Esmerelda, Frollo is willing to risk his position in the church and possibly his soul in order to possess the itinerant beauty and orders Quasimodo to kidnap her.


However, the plot is foiled and poor, misshapen Quasimodo lands-up in court and sentenced to time in the stocks.


And there's more courtroom drama later on when Esmerelda is unfairly charged with attempted murder and has to be saved from the gallows.


That may start to sound gravely serious and, possibly, a little heavy-going.


But Bertie Watkins' production offsets some of the more tragic elements of the plot and lightens the potentially dour intensity by utilising plenty of humour to deliver a piece eminently suitable for a family audience.


The director relies on the multiple talents of an engaging ensemble of just 6 actor-musicians to conjure-up the plethora of characters that populate this story.


Even so, audience participation is regularly shoe-horned into the endeavour to amplify the humour as well as to introduce even more characters - such as a goat!


And members of the audience also get roped-in to provide a horde of citizens to protect the church and its inhabitants in the final moments.


If you're one of those who squirm at the mere mention of 'audience participation', you needn't worry about being ridiculed because this is amiable, well-judged audience interaction that all the participants seemed to enjoy immensely.


Thinking of film versions of Victor Hugo's story, you might expect that Quasimodo would be described in a rather more hideous fashion than he actually is here.


But given the family-centric nature of the show, perhaps it's a safer bet to avoid delivering a Quasimodo that might scare the living daylights out of the younger members of the audience.


The company provide sterling work all-round, especially given their ancillary task of efficiently shepherding the audience from scene to scene.


The first half of this adaptation of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is certainly the lighter of the two, enriched with more comedy.


However, we do experience more sombre moments in the second half, though I couldn't help feeling that the preceding humour took the edge off the drama in the closing stages, requiring a big gear-shift to fully appreciate.


Still, there's plenty of fun to be had in what is an entertaining and enjoyable reimagining of a famous work.



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