In choosing to perform The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Iris Theatre set themselves two not insignificant challenges.
The first – how to turn a tragic tale into a family-friendly night of entertainment. Quite simply, as it turns out, by writing out the more harrowing passages, minimising the grisly deaths and inventing a new ending which is, if not exactly happy, at least less crushingly miserable than Hugo’s vision.
Writer Benjamin Polya has also worked hard to play up the comedy moments. Purists may recoil in horror, but it actually works beautifully, giving us a heart-warming tale which loses nothing of the original message in the reworking. In fact, much of the plot seems to lend itself to modern interpretation, with a distinct nod to the “Me Too” movement as Esmeralda tells Frollo he and he alone is to blame if he cannot control himself around her. “Not witchcraft, not me, not the way I dress. You.”
The second problem was how to stage a play with a cast of thousands using only six actors. Again, Director Bertie Watkins has a simple solution; get the cast to double – and in some cases triple – up, and use the audience as extras in the crowd scenes. Thus we found ourselves marching around the beautiful grounds of St Pauls in a grim execution parade, playing at being jurymen at a trial and even storming Notre Dame itself. This sort of audience participation always meets with mixed results; a few acteurs manqués leap in with enthusiasm, the majority mumble along, grinning self-consciously, and more than a couple run and hide at the back, clearly praying for the ground to swallow them up.
One little girl clearly belonged in the first camp and her sheer joy at being asked to dance with Quasimodo himself was infectious. We look forward to seeing her on stage in the future.
As always, Iris made excellent use of their unusual surroundings. It is a real pleasure to watch a play in a flower garden in central London, and the actors made sure to be as visible and audible as possible to all, despite the genial hubbub drifting from Covent Garden market. The final, dramatic denouement was all the more powerful for taking place in an actual church, and was further enhanced by some well-judged cinematic music and lighting.
It’s no picnic, being an Iris actor. What with trying to project over aeroplanes and nearby street entertainers, herding hapless audience members around the grounds and lightning-quick costume changes behind small pieces of scenery, it’s amazing they have any energy or focus left for the actual performance. More power to them, then, for delivering such an excellent show. Izzy Jones could not have been more perfect as fiery, stubborn, kind-hearted Esmeralda, and it was only too easy to understand why Frollo, Phoebus, Pierre and Quasimodo found themselves unable to resist her fascinating charm. Robert Rhodes was a touchingly innocent Quasimodo, his beaming smile lighting not only his own face, but also those around him. Darrie Gardner gave a heart-breaking portrayal of a mother bereaved, and Katie Tranter regularly stole the show as love-lorn poet Pierre, proud Fleur-De-Lys and a judgemental court scribe. In each and every role she was eminently watchable and very, very funny, and only ever upstaged herself by the goat, Djali.
All in all, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a unique, memorable and surprisingly entertaining experience. Not to be missed.
Review by Genni Trickett
Paris, 1831. Once again as the threat of revolution looms over the city, a traveling band of players return to tell Victor Hugo’s classic tale of survival, injustice, and love.
In 1482, set against the shadows of Notre Dame Cathedral, a priest and a hunchback both fall for the mysterious and beautiful Esmerelda who solely longs 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.
Promptly enough, revolution sweeps over the city of Paris and 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?
Immerse yourself at the court of miracles and experience this enchanting production for the whole family, nestled in the tranquil gardens of St. Paul’s Church. Featuring ornate costumes, catchy musical numbers, this promenade production The Hunchback of Notre Dame is not to be missed this summer!
Join the Left Bank Players as they transport you to the colourful world of mediaeval Paris brought to life in Benjamin Polya’s adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel.
From the 2017 Off West End Offie Award Winning producers of Treasure Island.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame runs from 1st August – 1st September 2019.
Max Alexander-Taylor, Ed Bruggemeyer, Darrie Gardner, Izzy Jones, Robert Rhodes, Katie Tranter.
Director: Bertie Watkins. Composer and Musical Director: Matthew Malone. Set Designer: Isabella Van Braeckel. Costume Designer: Cieranne Kennedy-Bell. Stage Manager: Sophie Spillane. Fight Choreographer: Esme Cooper. Associate Producer: Arsalan Sattari.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
by Benjamin Polya,
based on the novel by Victor Hugo
Directed by Bertie Watkins
St Paul’s Church
London WC2E 9ED