The Hunchback of Notre Dame
St Paul’s Church Covent Garden
Reviewed – 7th August 2019
“carries the audience along on a tide of smiles, while keeping enough of the darkness of the original story to balance the madcap hilarity”
This production fizzes with life as the cast of six talented actor musicians lead the audience through the streets of Paris, transforming the garden and interior of St Paul’s Church into Notre Dame Cathedral, dangerous slums, the site of gallows, pillories and court rooms, as they weave the tale of Quasimodo and Esmeralda. Be prepared to move from place to place, becoming the Parisian crowd and taking sides as the story unfolds. Don’t worry though, there are plentiful seats at each destination. There is a lot of audience participation, and engagement with the actors, all done with such jovial good humour that even the most timid audience member wouldn’t shy away.
It can’t be easy to write a show based on a book that has already had so many incarnations on film and stage, but Benjamin Polya has written a version of this well known story that is vibrant and alive. He has given the actors well rounded characters to play with, and they rise to the occasion with gusto. When we first meet the cast they introduce themselves as a troupe of players who will be putting on a show. They make their appearance in the bar area of the garden, and shepherd the audience into the first scene, already primed to enjoy the evening, grinning from the intro.
It’s a real ensemble piece, and each actor plays multiple roles. Katie Tranter has a genius for comedy, and an ability to really get the audience on her side. Her rather inept and earnest Pierre is one of the standout performances of the evening; hilarious, sweet and endearing. Ed Bruggemeyer is a powerful Frollo, bringing menace and darkness into the mix with his obsession for Izzy Jones’ charming and mercurial Esmeralda. Darrie Gardner is by turns a rousing ringmaster and a mother still grieving the loss of her baby, twenty years ago, bringing her anguish to balance the fun. Max Alexander-Taylor goes from king to lover to magistrate at the drop of a hat, and Robert Rhodes is an excellent Quasimodo, vulnerable, brave and, at times, heartbreaking. But it is the way that all the actors work and play together that make this such a good show.
Michael Malone’s songs and music mesh with the set and costume design, by Isabella Van Braeckel and Cieranne Kennedy-Bell to create an enticing and fascinating world. The fight scenes, choreographed by fight director Esme Cooper, are exciting, and director Bertie Watkins pulls everything together beautifully, creating a play that carries the audience along on a tide of smiles, while keeping enough of the darkness of the original story to balance the madcap hilarity.
This version of Hunchback is a real treat, full of laughter and drama. A magical summer evening in a garden, a high energy show full of humour and compassion. And there’s even a magical goat.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography courtesy Iris Theatre
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
St Paul’s Church Covent Garden until 1st September
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough
Reviewed – 26th April 2019
“The satire gets lost in a mish-mash of absurdist comedy and sea-side slapstick, despite excellent performances from a talented cast”
Ben Alderton’s story is about the political battle between Ned Contraband and David Carter, obvious caricatures of Miliband and Cameron. On the Labour side, Ben Hood plays Contraband as a lost soul, pulled between his hippy counsellor, Will, and tough talking advisor Sharon Slaughter. Michael Edwards is funny and convincing as Will, oozing charm as the exaggeratedly stereotyped yoga, energy healing, hug giving therapist, one of the only characters in the play who actually cares about anyone else. Cassandra Hercules, as Slaughter, is his polar opposite, hard as nails, ambitious and a little too shouty. Contraband is pulled one way and the other between them, seeming to lack any volition of his own. He is a weak character with no depth, and it is just not possible to see him as a real politician. This is in no way Hood’s fault, he does a good job, but what he has been given to work with is not fully realised.
On the Conservative side we have Alderton himself giving us a truly vile, self serving Prime Minister Carter. He bullies and towers above his flunkies, intimidating and unlikeable. Only Annie Tyson’s Glyniss can control, and occasionally dominate him. Glyniss is Carter’s campaign manager, and Tyson gives her a steely reality that only sometimes falls victim to the play’s one dimensionality. Nick Clog, played by James Bryant, is bullied by Carter to such an extent that he even cleans his shoes. Again, the stereotype is too much, but Bryant finds moments of humanity in the chaos, particularly in the second act. Venice Van Someren plays Poppy, a young Conservative, working on Carter’s re-election campaign and practically surgically attached to her Blackberry. Also in the blue camp is a young political consultant, Patrick. He is a fish out of water in the Tory shark tank, intelligent and clever. He is also the only truly human character in the play. He is written with depth and reality, and Mikhail Sen does an excellent job of showing Patrick’s disillusionment with the world of politics, and his eventual rethink about allegiance and ambition.
The final character, played by Edward Halsted, is an Obi-Wan Kenobi/Jeremy Corbyn figure, called Corbz, who appears from time to time, sweeping the floor and uttering profundities. His dialogue with Patrick at the end of the play is a rallying cry about not giving up, of finding a way to be honest and true in the political cesspool. It is impassioned and heartfelt, but unfortunately it is a little long, and feels like a bit of a tirade by the end.
It is in characterisation that Alderton’s writing fails to convince, and Roland Reynolds’ direction, which emphasises exaggerated performance, does not help. The essence of good caricature is its believability, and making such absurd stereotypes of the characters extracts their reality to such an extent that the comedy is often diminished, people seem one dimensional, and the power of the satire is lost. Often, instead of feeling the bite of satire as the two factions fight within and between themselves, it feels more like the playground, where kids yell ‘na na ni na na’ at each other.
The set is simple and effective, using a coloured strip which lights up red, blue or yellow, according to each political party, above a wooden sideboard and carpet tied floor, is enough to give atmosphere and locate the action. Isabella Van Braeekel is the designer, Alex Hopkins the lighting designer, and Julian Starr designed the sound.
Described as a political satire, Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough falls unhappily between two stools. The satire gets lost in a mish-mash of absurdist comedy and sea-side slapstick, despite excellent performances from a talented cast. It’s a pity really, because some of it is very funny.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography by Robert Workman
Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough
Park Theatre until 18th May
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: