What better place is there to put on a play set in the surroundings of a cathedral than in the surroundings of a church? A church nicknamed ‘The Actors’ Church’ in fact. The setting was used well in this promenade production as we moved around the churchyard, although it was perhaps most fitting at the end when we were ushered inside the church for the final scene. There was even brief use of the organ.
The six-strong cast of actors played multiple roles and musical instruments throughout the production. There were some excellent performances, most notably from Izzy Jones who showed subtlety and versatility in her role as Esmerelda, and from Katie Tranter who, in her various roles, was able to encourage audience participation very effectively. The audience plays a big part in this show, being required to point, shout and throw sponges at Quasimodo and at each other. Front seats at each location are reserved for small people (by which sadly they meant children and not just people like me who have failed to grow enough to see over people’s heads) such that they could have priority to participate, a really nice touch which makes this show great for a family outing.
Like all of his other novels, Victor Hugo did not feel the need to get to the point quickly in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In fact, at just over 900 pages long it was initially published in three volumes. Therefore, adapting this into a play is an unenviable task, one which the writer Benjamin Polya succeeded at magnificently, identifying the key highlights and putting them together into a coherent story without losing any of the intricacy or drama. The play did drag a little, but it felt like this was unavoidable given the high volume of largely similar content that required covering.
One of the unique features of this production is that it is a promenade production; the audience are moving around different locations to watch the show. The play started in the makeshift bar where we were introduced to the (fictional) backgrounds of our company of players, complete with parental feuds and romances, a good way to get the audience’s attention and draw them in, although this was not revisited again in great detail so I’m not sure how necessary it was. We were then taken to various settings around the churchyard as the story progressed. The movement between locations allowed for multiple different sets to be used and at times also allowed for the audience to be used as part of execution and courtroom processions. Overall though the difficulties of moving such a large audience through small gaps and getting them seated in new locations proved a significant challenge. The actors had to come out of character to ask people to move down and make space – and the time it took to get from location to location meant the show lost pace and felt rather clunky and disjointed.
The other issue with this location is that the actors do not have any microphones, but the street performers in Covent Garden do. This meant for the first half of the night they were competing against louder noises coming from elsewhere. The cast rose to this challenge admirably and I could hear every word that was said, however, I admit it was sometimes hard to concentrate on what was going on. I was therefore much happier and more comfortable inside the church at the end. There was no noise coming from outside, and because there was no audience movement once there I felt like I could finally fully engage in the story without distraction.
Overall, the unique setting combined with some great performances and audience participation made for an entertaining evening for children and adults alike.
Review by Emily Diver
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