The first show of 2022 for the Island Savoyards was the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Although the songs of the Disney animated feature are present, this production sits alongside Jekyll and Hyde, rather than Beauty and the Beast.
The narrative is cleverly relayed. Dom Pope is perfect as Clopin, the gypsy chieftain, confidently introducing us to the Paris setting. Unlike in Disney, we are given Quasimodo’s backstory. When first presented, he stands upright, the ‘man’; un-ceremonially dressed on-stage with his hunchback, the ‘monster’ is born. Daniel Farmer portrayed the title character with sensitivity. A persecuted and punished soul, but when singing you could see into the hope and dreams of the character within.
Blue Brown’s, Esmeralda rescues Quasimodo from humiliation and is played to perfection. Whilst not the purest of characters, her heart is true. Dom Claude Frollo, the tale’s antagonist, is sinisterly played by Steve Jones, giving a lesson on how to act through song in his performance of ‘Hellfire’. Captain Phoebus De Martin (Brad Barnley) is sent to track down Esmeralda, but he too falls under her spell, his booming voice finding the sweet spot in the auditorium.
The real strength in this production is the teamwork. The principals’ performances are enhanced by the congregation (the ensemble) and the choir. Latin liturgy never sounded so good. The congregation are probably the busiest of all, playing gypsies, gargoyles, soldiers and Parisians, dancing and delivering spoken and sung lines intricately woven throughout the performance. Highlights include a charismatic performance from Edward Nash as Jehan Frollo, the voice of Emily Scotcher as Florika in the finale, and a hauntingly beautiful solo from Friederike Skeet.
Director, Anthony Wright, and production manager, Andrew Woodford, certainly rose to the challenge. Superb musical direction from Andrew Woodford and Kim Ball got the talented orchestra revelling in the score, and with intricate choreography from Jake Alabaster, dancing and movement was solidly delivered.
Finally, I want to mention the lighting, probably the best I have ever seen on the Island stage. It seemed to conduct the action and tempo on stage whilst painting an atmospheric rainbow throughout.
This production was a technical, exciting, visceral and emotional triumph.