The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Wed 19th – Fri 21st November 2014

reviews

Ben Rodman

at 00:58 on 21st Nov 2014

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An innovative and enthralling interpretation of the classic Gothic novel, the performance first entices then captivates its audience in the thrill of the setting and the verve of the actors.

The musical tells the story of Quasimodo, the eponymous hunchbacked bell ringer, and his subsequent infatuation with the gypsy dancer, Esmerelda. Throughout the tale Quasimodo stumbles into a miasma of lust and love for Esmerelda, failing to comprehend all that exists outside his cathedral, focusing on protecting the only person who ever showed him kindness.

Yet the intricacies of the musical allow its audience to delve deeper into the personal conflict within each character, as the audience is split into two groups and ushered around the prodigious Durham cathedral following a specific character on their journey. However, this created an inherent sense that I was missing out on other equally good parts of the musical, a stark change in form where an audience member can usually view all that happens onstage. This also led to moments where vertically challenged people, like myself, were unable to see what was happening during scenes in the less cavernous expanses of cathedral. This was generally countered through use of a smattering of actors, interspersed throughout the crowd who colloquially chatted to us in character, as we walked, about the events we had just witnessed. The use of additional actors also helped to add an additional dimension to the drama, conveying the fickle nature of the peasantry and helping immerse the viewer in Nineteenth-Century Paris.

My group was assigned to following Frollo, an embittered and lustful Archdeacon played with a fiery passion by Rob Collins, whose conflict between desire for Esmeralda and constriction of church life leading him to ever darker machinations. Additional accolades should go to Lizzie McGhee as Esmeralda, whose effortlessly mellifluous and lilting voice did ample justice to Jack Moreton’s original and varied score. Georgina Armfield and Tyler Rainford, as Clopine Trouillefou and Gringoire respectively, portrayed such fervour that they naturally drew the audience’s attention during every scene in which they featured. Due to the aforementioned splitting of the audience there may have been other standout performances that I was unable to fully appreciate.

It was unfortunate that Sam McKay’s Quasimodo didn't feature in a greater capacity, not only to capitalise on his excellent singing voice, but to also gain a greater emotional investment in the character. The dialogue between performers, even during the more dolorous scenes, appears purely functional as the complexity of the novel is drastically condensed. The final scene has also been altered, reverting from the original Gothic morass into which the characters descend, to instead favour a more Disneyesque ending that provides a less emotionally powerful conclusion.

Overall, the grandeur of the cathedral and the immersion invoked by the powerful and convincing performances provided a unique insight into a classic story, marred only by the fact that I didn't see enough of it.

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Nathaniel Zacharias

at 10:56 on 21st Nov 2014

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The setting for the evening begins in the Galilee Chapel of Durham Cathedral, transporting the audience to Nineteenth-Century Notre Dame. As the start of the musical draws near, in a touch of realism, the scene is flooded by thieves, vagabonds and pickpockets, who perform the dual role of guide through the winding streets of Paris.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the promenade musical, is a colourful production that is presented to the shepherded audience with such enthusiasm that, at times, the audience would be wise to guard their belongings from the pickpockets scattered among them.

The task of the guides and vagabonds was immense: having to maintain character, they courteously talked to the audience about the everyday happenings of the Parisian streets whilst hustling and calling out witty comments to the principal characters. Meanwhile A sense of order among market-goers was maintained in their crude, street-worthy barking of instructions which effectively blended into the setting. Collectively, they did a marvellous job in bringing the bustling streets of Paris to life.

From the marketplace, some were led to the scene in which Gringoire was brought to trial before Clopine. Set against the beautiful interior of the chapter house, Tyler Rainford (as Gringoire) and Georgina Armfield (as Clopine) did not let the interior embellishments overpower their skilful exchange of stagecraft. Georgina took full ownership of her role, delicately balancing her character’s dual personality of femme fatale and thief. Tyler truly carried with him his character’s self-proclaimed brilliance as a playwright and poet. We witness this first in his arrogance on the street, and later in his cunning before Clopine’s court.

Back outside on the streets, the lovely Fleur-de-Lys and her ladies were mocking the dancing of Esmeralda and treating it with contempt. Izzie Price, in her portrayal of Fleur, comfortably played the high lady without allowing a single crease to form on her face whilst delivering her lines. The pauses that she used were tasteful in their punctuation and had the ability to patronize her fellow characters.

Equally delightful to watch was the acting ability of Fleur’s lover, Phoebus, also captain of the king’s guard. Mike Yates pulled off Phoebus’s emotional transitions to a tee, at once being the gallant captain shouting orders, then plainsightedly declining Fleur’s seat, then drunkenly mistaking a bloke for Esmeralda, and finally insincerely saying “I love you too” in a single syllable. His character’s many opportunities were fully utilised and supplemented by the dynamic range of Mike’s acting.

The culminating scene between Quasimodo, Frollo and Esmeralda felt inorganically forced and could have done better with a more natural exchange of lines from the script. That being said, Sam McKay’s embodiment of Quasimodo’s confusion and sincerity, alongside Lizzie McGhee’s characterisation of Esmeralda’s kindness, and Rob Collins’ dark and deranged portrayal of Frollo worked well in themselves.

The original music written by Jack Moreton to weave everything together was beautifully apt for the different settings. The use of violin solos, clarinet solos and tin percussion was a masterstroke of musical directorship, bringing the audience back several centuries. Notable works were the dance between Esmeralda and Phoebus and the opening piece wherein the band of vagabonds were dancing in the market. The choreography for the opening piece was also done tastefully by Ellis-Anne Dunmall.

Admittedly, the promenade musical felt short, rushed and underdeveloped but its main attraction lies in the innovative style of theatre inside Durham Cathedral with a cast that kept their energy levels high consistently throughout.

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