‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ review

Theatre, Outdoor theatres
3 out of 5 stars
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Iris Theatre
Robert Rhodes (Quasimodo)

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Slight but entertaining outdoor promenade take on the Victor Hugo classic

Outdoor theatre is a summer tradition like eating strawberries, speculating over Andy Murray’s hip and complaining about the weather (whatever the weather). Iris Theatre, who each year bring two productions to Covent Garden’s St Paul’s Church – also known as the Actors’ Church – are very much a part of this, with the added advantage of having a very pretty garden-slash-churchyard to perform in.

The company’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ is given a sort-of meta flourish by being staged as if an 1830s band of travelling players were putting on a show based on Victor Hugo’s famous Parisian novel (so the performers are performing as performers, got it?). 

Apart from this, Benjamin Polya’s adaptation is a fairly faithful – if simplified – version of the original, with a changed ending. There’s the beautiful woman Esmerelda (Izzy Jones), the hunchback named Quasimodo (Robert Rhodes), evil priest Frollo (Ed Bruggemeyer) and a maybe-evil-but-then-not nun Sister Gudule (Darrie Gardner). Quasimodo, Frollo and Phoebus, a swaggering soldier, all fall for Esmerelda and, well, anarchy ensues. There’s also a goat. 

The action moves around the church grounds fairly regularly, promenading between a courtroom, a nice town square where they do the singing and a not-so-nice town square where they do the hanging. The whole shebang has the air of almost being a pantomime at points – the crowd whistle, boo and cheer, there’s a bagful of audience interaction and the acting is often deliberately OTT and slapsticky. Stripped down to its bones, the language of the story often jars to 2019 ears, especially the constant mentions of beguiling gypsy women and disfigured hunchbacks. 

This is not, it’s fair to say, a particularly engrossing or moving piece of theatre. But its enjoyable aspects are about: you’re in a hidden garden! There are fairy lights! And streamers! You can drink prosecco from a disposable coffee cup! It’s Covent Garden! It’s the British summer! And it didn’t *fingers crossed* rain.  

By: Rosemary Waugh

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