The bells! The bells! Quasimodo's in town
The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the Theatre Royal
A play based on a Disney film based on a classic novel. But a play that wants to reclaim some of the depth of the original book that was lost in the Disneyfication process. As one of the movie’s composers, Steven Schwartz, said ‘I liked the underlying themes of social outcasts and the worth of people being different than what society sees on the surface’. So, Schwartz and Menken reworked their score for a darker interpretation. Quite a challenge for the Nottingham Operatic Society. Yes, it is one of the oldest amateur musical theatre companies in the UK, with over a hundred years of productions, but were they up to it?
Long story made short: yes. The lights flare up on a dazzling edifice of wood and stone. Cloisters, parapets, courts, the stage design had it all covered. Kudos to the carpenters who constructed that.
Out comes the large cast, for as well as the principal actors, there is a small army of narrators, chorists and extras. Thanks to Disney and the vintage Charles Laughton movie, probably everyone is semi-acquainted with the story. The villainous Frollo lords it up at the Notre Dame, while giving his hunchback nephew, Quasimodo (meaning half-formed) sanctuary from a bigoted public. Enter Esmeralda, the free-spirited and feisty gypsy girl and Captain Phoebus, a dashing soldier back from the front, and the seeds of the melodrama are sown. Lust, love, jealousy, prejudice, corruption, courage, defiance, heartbreak and triumph. The whole human spectrum is on display.
I liked the underlying themes of social outcasts and the worth of people being different than what society sees on the surface
It all goes a bit ‘Les Mis’ in the second act, which isn’t surprising as Victor Hugo wrote both novels. But there’s nothing like an enraged rabble storming the battlements to get hearts pumping in the back rows.
Simon Theobald as Frollo gave a masterful performance. Perhaps the most difficult role, Frollo is not without his good points. Theobald communicates the character’s moral descent perfectly to the audience. But naturally, it was Zak Charlesworth as the eponymous hunchback who stole the audience’s hearts. At curtain call he received a standing ovation, and more than one theatregoer could be seen dabbing their eyes with a moist tissue. Bravo!
All in all, the cast gave such professional performances that it is easy to forget the amateur status of the Society. Never a wrong note nor a missed line. Perhaps a little finetuning with feedback and volume levels is required, but that tiny, tiny point apart, a superb evening. Why go to London when we have all this talent and class on Nottingham’s doorstep?
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