Ralph Wainer commends Ethreal Theatre’s successes with such a challenging production.
Ethreal Theatre’s production of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ is among the most memorable performances I have seen at Durham. With original music by Jack Moreton and a well-versed script by Leo Mylonadis, this promenade musical is not to be missed and features a stunning cast of 26, as well as a talented group of musicians.
The evening started off within the walls of the cathedral.
During the entire performance, the audience was led on by guides, who never broke their character and came up with some of the wittiest retorts to the comments by the audience; it’s not every night where a group of vagabonds try to sell you a ‘finger of Christ’ and ‘wood from his cross’.
Gringoire, played by the ever-active Tyler Rainford, led the audience to a Gypsy dance where we are introduced to a group of vagabonds and La Esméralda, played by the very talented Lizzie McGhee. This beautifully choreographed moment was then where we had the first appearance of Quasimodo.
Sam McKay gave a first-class portrayal of the hunchback. His makeup was first-class and the character was well acted throughout the performance.
In general, all the named characters gave excellent performances, my personal favourites being the self-loving Phoebus (Mike Yates), and the incredibly cold Fleur-de-Lys (Izzie Price).
It must be said, however, that it was the supporting cast that made the show the success that it was: the guides and vagabonds should be commended for the strength of their performance, especially given that it must have been difficult to construct characters with so little back-story.
The director had worked on truly immersing the audience in his performance and not a moment passed without them being entertained.
In particular, ‘The Court of Miracles’ scene set in one of the lesser known, more private halls of the cathedral, was excellent, with Georgina Armfield’s regal portrayal of the Queen of the Gyspsies and the especially lush and realistic set, comprising of a candle-lit table with half-eaten food. I also found the execution of Esméralda very powerfully choreographed, with Quasimodo’s famous lines ‘Sanctuary!’ especially effective.
The amount of thought and preparation that went into this performance is phenomenal and the result is a wonderfully original adaptation that I would love to see again..
Having read most of the book in French, I can safely confirm that this adaptation is close to the original with a few creative exceptions: Clopin was here portrayed by a woman. This did temporarily give the character something of the air of a ‘Bond villainess’, yet all in all, it was a refreshingly new idea to give the role to a woman. It is of course impossible to fit all the main scenes of this book in a 90 minute musical, with famous scenes such as Quasimodo receiving water from Esméralda and the death of Esméralda omitted.
Perhaps some clarification was also needed in the end-scene where Louis XI demands the presence of Esmeralda as audience members who are not familiar with the story may have struggled to understand this logic, with the explanatory scenes cut from the show.
Nevertheless, I wish to congratulate all those involved in this excellent production, which was exceptionally well presented given its challenging nature. It is certainly well worth a watch.
Photograph: Juliano Henrique