Friday, 9 August 2019

REVIEW: Hunchback of Notre Dame at St Paul’s Church Gardens

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is an epic book written in 1831 by Victor Hugo. It has since seen many film, television and musical adaptations including the 1996 Disney version, and now rears its head in St Paul’s Church Gardens as an immersive promenade piece of theatre adapted by Benjamin Polya. Being a timeless story adored by older and younger generations, it is deceptively dark with many themes that ring true in this day and age. In particular themes of sexism, racial discrimination and morality are touched upon, and makes this show very important to watch.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame starts as a band called ‘the Left Bank Players’ in 1831, telling Victor Hugo’s story set in Paris, 1482. In the shadows of the Notre Dame Cathedral, a priest and a hunchback both fall for the mysterious and beautiful Esmerelda, who desires to find her long lost mother. When they start to take matters into their own hands, they set off a chain of events that shakes up Paris. With the backdrop of revolution and injustices, who will come out alive?

The strengths of this show lie in the fantastic use of immersion and all of the church grounds, tucked in Covent Garden. It is always very exciting being led around and not knowing what will happen each time, although due to the nature of the space and the number of people it can take a while to move between scenes, but the actors give strong improvisations to keep it light hearted. Bertie Watkins’s direction makes use of the space efficiently and keeps the audience on their toes and engaged throughout. I especially enjoyed the use of sponging actors and sponging each other in the show – I even got a wet sponge to the face but it was good fun. The use of height levels was always exciting too. Some of the spaces though suffered with it being very difficult to hear all the dialogue – sometimes the accordion would be too close to the audience and trying to hear the dialogue became impossible over the music (as well as the bleeding in music from Covent Garden entertainers). This meant that if you didn’t know the story of Hunchback of Notre Dame already it was hard to follow.

As far as the actors go, there was a strong sense of fun with the play! Particular
mention goes out to Katie Tranter who played Pierre Gringoire and Fleur-De-Lys (amongst others). Her comedic skills were second to none, always engaging with the audience and you could hear every word in a very difficult acoustic. For me the true stand out performance. Robert Rhodes gave a compelling Quasimodo, and the raw emotion he gave was excellent. Izzy Jones and Max Alexander-Taylor gave fantastic energy and characterizations too, with Izzy bringing fantastic vulnerability in the second half. A special mention goes to the genius idea of picking an audience member to be Djali, Esmerelda’s goat giving excellent ‘baas’ and being led fantastically by the cast.

Overall, the immersive Hunchback of Notre Dame has a fantastic heart to it, and fantastic timing to put this show on. Whilst the acting was not always the most truthful and there were moments with the actor-musicianship and stage combat being a bit out, I certainly came away with a smile on my face and having had an amazing evening. Certainly one to catch for a great night out!

Review by Adam Yorke

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: n/a | Price of Ticket: £14
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