first night

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Elissa Churchill explores our cathedral in a new light with Ethrael Theatre Company's production of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'


We here in Durham are extremely blessed to have the opportunity to use Durham Cathedral as a performance space; it has lent an element of grandeur to every production I have witnessed inside it and 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, performed by Ethrael Theatre Company, is by no means an exception.

On entering the Cathredral, the audience is greeted by numerous waifs and urchins who enthusiastically guide the audience through the story. Praise must be given to these seven actors, given the size of the audience, for the skill with which they directed the crowd to the appropriate areas. Split into two, one half of the audience follows the story of Frollo and his obsession with the beautiful Esmeralda, the other following Esmeralda into the world of the vagabonds, led by a memorable Georgina Armfield. This would be my first criticism – by only following one narrative, by the time the two strands joined at the end I was left completely confused by what was going on, and by following the strand of what should be the villain of the tale, confidently and authoritatively played by Rob Collins, I felt I had more sympathy for his character, having been party to his hopes and desires, than I perhaps maybe should have. Through lacking the completed story, I found it hard to establish an emotional connection with the characters or the action, which meant the final scene left me cold. With a running time of just over an hour, I would have been happy to be on my feet a bit longer in order to watch the second half. As it was, there were certain performers on the cast list that I was unable to watch, and am therefore unable to comment on their hard work. I was also unsure of the intended tone of the production – in such a grandiose space and the 15th Century setting, I was not expecting to hear lines such as, ‘I’m in a bit of a pickle’, or see a thumbs up between the guides. Personally, I felt there was a slight disparity between the space, the script and acting style, which at times bordered on pantomime, meaning that at odd moments I was unsure as to the intentions of the production.

That being said, there were some performances that warrant a mention. Tyler Rainford and Mike Yates, as Gringoire and Phoebus respectively, stood out particularly in a cast that were incredibly impressive in their level of commitment. Rainford is marvellously watchable, whilst Yates has a remarkable presence; it is difficult to look away when these two are performing. As the eponymous Hunchback, Sam McKay was severely underused. Again, this could be due to the particular strand I witnessed, but I felt that the opportunity to show the story of this hugely pitiful yet human character was missed. However, commendation must go to Michelle Novellie for creating Quasimodo’s make-up – if there was one element I was concerned would go awry in putting together this production it was getting Quasimodo’s deformities to convince, and I am happy to say that she did a wonderful job.

It would be a crime not to mention the fact that this production was created entirely by students, with director Leo Mylonadis writing the script and lyrics, and Jack Moreton composing the music. I do not envy the job of adapting Victor Hugo’s novel, and Mylonadis does an incredibly good job of packing the story into an hour. Despite my earlier criticism of splitting the narrative in two, he succeeds in creating some wonderful moments, and utilizes the Cathedral impressively. With promenade theatre, there will sadly always be moments when you can’t see a thing, and this is a shame when it is obvious so much time and effort has been put into the scene you are missing. However, there are times when it is hard not to be carried away upon entering a dimly lit corridor full of dancing gypsies, and Mylonadis and the show’s producers Matilda Hunter and Lauren Hitchman should be applauded for putting together a production of such a large scale. The attention to detail is wonderful, and their commitment to the aesthetics and the atmosphere of the production is staggering. Jack Moreton does a sterling job with the music; his orchestration and directing of the small band of musicians is marvellous, his melodies atmospheric and chilling.

Overall, this is a successful production, and one of the kind you are unlikely to have seen before. The cast and creative team have put in an immensely high level of dedication, and if you feel you’ve missed out on the story, you can always see it twice! 

21 November 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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