The Hunchback of Notre Dame
By Benjamin Polya
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo.
St Paul’s Churchyard, Covent Garden, London WC2 9ED to 1 September 2019.
Tues, Thu & Sat 7pm. Mat Mon, Thu, Fri, Sat & Sun 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 40 mins One interval.
Review: William Russell 7 August.
This shambolic production and adaptation should never have seen the light of day. There is nothing a gallant six strong cast can do to turn it into anything other than what it is – a badly constructed, ridiculous misrepresentation of Victor Hugo’s great story. Director Bertie Watkins seems to have no idea what to do with the material provided by the playwright – although what to do is patently clear from the start – toss it into the nearest waste paper basket and start again. The six strong cast play at least eighteen names characters and in between lurk in the background doing something or other while the audience, as is usual at these promenade performances by iris theatre companies, lurch unsteadily from one churchyard garden to the next trying to make out what is being said above the racket from the piazza outside. Some of them manage to be heard, some do not. It ends, as always, inside the church which, for an actor’s church, has the worst acoustics in London so that the denouement can hardly be heard and the gloom is so dense that lip reading is not possible.
As the hapless gypsy Esmeralda Izzy Jones delivers a charming performance, however, Ed Bruggemeyer even gets to do some real acting as the malevolent priest, Frollo, who lusts after her, and Robert Rhodes proves a nicely tragic hunchback although he does disappear from the story for large chunks of the action. Indeed the piece might just as well be called Esmeralda of Notre Dame.
Iris has performed some delightful pieces in past summer seasons here, many have been inventive and often off the wall, and even this season’s previous offering, Hamlet, got away with some unusual casting and performing a piece about a dark and sinister world in a flower garden. But whoever thought they could do Hugo was under a delusion.
As a rough and not very ready pantomime it may well please audiences – the participatory delights on offer include the audience throwing sponges at Quasimodo in the stocks, pretending to be the jury at Esmeralda’s trial for witchcraft, being asked to read out some lines when there is no cast member available to utter them and I think someone got to play a goat, but I must have been in a different part of the seating when that was decided. Whoever it was did it rather well.
The piece really deserves no stars at all, but the players do all that is asked with them, expend an enormous amount of energy running hither and thither changing their clothes, and for their efforts to save the shipwreck of a play it gets two. They also play musical instruments.
Max Alexander-Taylor: Etienne, Phoebus, Magistrate, King Louis & others.
Ed Bruggemeyer: Marcel, Frollo, Trouillefou,Clopin & others.
Darrie Gardner: Emanuelle, Sister Gudule, Andrew & others.
Izzy Jones: Marie, Esmeralda & others.
Robert Rhodes: Gabriel, Quasimodo & others.
Katie Tranter: Anne-Genevieve, Pierre, Fleur De Lys & others.
Director: Bertie Watkins.
Composer, Musical Director, Sound Designer: Matthew Malone.
Costume Designer: Cieranne Kennedy-Bell.
Set Designer: Isabella Van Braeckel.
Lighting Designer: Gregory Jordan.