Palatinate’s Amy Price talks to the production team of the musical promenade show ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, taking place in the Cathedral at the end of the week.
Would you say this is one of the most original productions to happen in Durham, to date?
Leo Mylonadis (Director/ Writer): There have been several promenade performances in Durham in the past few years, notably Another Soup’s Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls in the Indoor Market two years ago and Quirk Productions’ The Theatre the year before that. Nonetheless, it is a form of theatre that has not been experimented with much in Durham. This play is promenade on a whole new scale, which brings its own challenges and excitement with it.
Lauren Hitchman (Producer): And Leo’s being very modest by failing to mention that he actually wrote the entire thing himself… With an original score from Jack, too, this really is an amazing production purely in the fact that the entire thing has been written and composed by students.
Jack Moreton (Musical Director/ Composer): It’s really exciting to be part of a project that breaks away from the Assembly Rooms or college. Productions have been performed in the Cathedral before, and people may remember the promenade production of Sweeney Todd, but never before has promenade been attempted in the Cathedral to my knowledge! Thematically it’s perfect, and who wouldn’t want to boast being involved in an original musical in one of the country’s most historic buildings?
What has been the most challenging aspect of the process so far?
LM: From a director’s perspective, trying to rehearse the play with each scene in a different location, with a different stage for each scene and trying to tie them all together has been particularly difficult. Rehearsing in the Cathedral was incredibly useful as it allowed the actors to better visualise their scenes, as well as the route the audience will take.
LH: The logistics of the Cathedral and the amount of organisation required staging a show in such a historical and renowned venue has made it a challenge, but an exciting and certainly rewarding one!
JM: Using my own music – it puts a lot of pressure on you when you put your own music out there to be judged. Writing the music presented its own challenges, but teaching it has actually proved surprisingly fun!
Have you put together musicals previously?
LM: I directed The Furies by Aeschylus last November, which featured an original composition by Ben Williams and acapella singing in the Norman Chapel in Castle, but might be considered a “play with music” rather than a full-blown musical.
How are you relations with the Cathedral? Have they been accommodating?
LM: The staff were very keen for more theatre to get involved with the Cathedral, and were as helpful as they could be, considering how busy and in high demand the Cathedral is!
LH: The nature of the Cathedral means there’s a lot more bureaucracy that other venues in Durham, and they’ve been fantastic at ensuring that everything runs as smoothly and flawlessly as possible.
Biggest fear for the productions?
LM: Being able to fit the whole audience through the doors to the cloisters in time!
JM: That the band don’t manage to run between scenes in time!
What should the audience expect from the evening?
LM: To see the Cathedral at night and rooms normally inaccessible to the public filled with a lively, adventurous musical. Each experience will be unique, as half the audience will watch scenes the other half doesn’t and vice versa, and free roaming will be greatly encouraged in certain scenes!
Did you have difficulty finding a cast for such a challenging production?
LM: We had over 60 people audition for the show, which made casting it difficult for all the wrong reasons. Of course, as is the case with most Durham shows, we had many more ladies audition than gents, which made casting girls extra difficult.
LH: I’m always amazed at the level of talent seen at auditions, and it was fantastic to see so many first years throw themselves into this style of production. Actors in Durham are so ambitious that the challenging nature of the production didn’t put anyone off.
What was the inspiration behind the show?
LM: I admittedly was very inspired by Another Soup’s Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls as it proved that ambitious, site-specific promenade was possible in Durham. Other inspirations include Jethro Compton’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, Punchdrunk’s A Drowned Man as well as – I’m not ashamed to say – the Disney film adaptation.
Do you feel promenade theatre is particularly ‘fashionable’ right now – and why do you think so?
LM: I think audiences are much more receptive to it now than before, so there is now more demand for it, as Punchdrunk’s exponential success proves. However, there are always innovations and changes sweeping across theatre, and promenade or immersive don’t seem to be any more popular now than other formats and genres.
JM: Not sure – it has reared its head a few times, but I would never describe it as fashionable. It’s fun for those that want to push the boundaries, and ambitious at student level. Having got to final year and been involved in a range of productions in Durham, it was about time to really step up the challenge!
Are you concerned that some audience members will be dissatisfied with not seeing everything that will be going on?
LM: When I planned the plot and script of the play, I didn’t aim to break down the plot to make it less satisfying for the audience. The benefit of immersive theatre is that each experience is unique, so I decided to tell the story of Notre Dame from two of the main characters’ perspectives. Each half of the audience will see a certain interpretation of the same events, and will (hopefully) come out with differing views on how everything went down.
One sentence to sell the show to me, go:
JM: Exciting, immersive, and original production set in the historic heart of Durham.
LM: The Cathedral as you’ve never seen it before!
Image: Iona Thompson