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A CurtainUp London Review
The Hunchback of Notre Dame

"There is no words for someone who has lost a child. It is too painful for words ."
— Sister Gudule
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Robert Rhodes as Quasimodo
(Photo: Iris Theatre)
Whether or not you will enjoy the Iris Theatre's interpretation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame depends on your expectations. If you want a light hearted entertaining evening with audience participation in the open air, then this is for you but if you seek a more accurate interpretation of the Victor Hugo novel then a summer's evening in Covent Garden probably isn't it. Instead you might like to grapple with the novel!

This is not a static show because the audience moves several times to different parts of the churchyard for differing scenes before culminating in the church itself. But I find it hard to call it immersive because, although I found myself caring about Esmerelda and Quasimodo, I never believed we were in 15th century Paris.

We follow the story of Quasimodo (a delicate and mindful performance from Robert Rhodes), the priest Frollo (Ed Bruggemeyer) and the gypsy girl Esmerelda (a beautiful Izzy Jones). The theme of vilifying difference is one we can relate to today and this affects Quasimodo because of his deformity and Esmerelda as an outcast gypsy.

Little is made of Clopin (Ed Bruggemeyer) and the Court of Miracles in this version but there is Sister Gudule (Darrie Gardener) as Esmerelda's birth mother who abandoned Quasimodo, who had been substituted for her baby, on the cathedral steps.

Whilst Esmerelda's compassion is unquestionable as she reprieves the poet Pierre Gringoire (Katie Tranter) from the death penalty by agreeing to marry him in name only for four years, she has terrible taste when she is attracted to Phoebus, Captain of the King's Archers (Max Alexander-Taylor). A member of the audience is recruited as Esmerelda's pet goat Djali and given a hat with ears.

The production is like a summer pantomime with the audience given sponges to throw at Quasimodo in the stocks (which I wished some had kept for the odd mistimed arrival) and a jury is recruited to give a pre-decided verdict on Quasimodo or Esmerelda's guilt – I forget which. Other scenes will see audience participation to much merriment but inevitably a break in the melodrama.

The ending is not Hugo's but a feel good or unlikely outcome for 1482. Many laughs are extracted from Hugo's characters and their situation but I personally would not show children the gallows with its huge rope noose.

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Written by Victor Hugo
Adapted by Benjamin Polya
Directed by Bertie Watkins
With: Max Alexander-Taylor, Ed Bruggemeyer, Darrie Gardner, Izzy Jones, Robert Rhodes, Katie Tranter
Set Design: Isabella van Braecket
Lighting Design: Gregory Jordan
Composer, Musical Director and Sound Designer: Matthew Malone
Costume Designer: Cieranne Kennedy-Bell
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes including an interval
Box Office: 020 7240 0344
Booking to 1st September 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th August 2019 evening performance at St Paul's Churchyard Covent Garden, entrance on King Street London WC2E 9ED (Tube: Covent Garden)
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