In creating a lively and light-hearted show, Benjamin Polya has managed to extract the essence of Victor Hugo’s original novel, but with a much happier ending to suit the billing of ‘family friendly’’. It is enough to keep younger audience members amused for an evening, although at over two and half hours it does border on being a little too lengthy. A nice touch though is in reserving some benches at the front for those younger audience members.
From the very start, the troupe of performers mingle with the audience in the bar area, delivering introductions and setting the scene. Everyone is then ushered to the different performance areas within the grounds as the story unfolds. Be warned though, this is a promenade performance, so the audience is required to move about. It’s also mostly outside so be prepared for hard benches and whatever the weather may hold. It can get chilly when the sun goes down.
The six strong cast portray all of the characters between them, with just a little help from willing members of the audience. Katie Trantor does a standout performance with a seamless differentiation between characters along with excellent comic timing. That’s not to say the rest of the cast aren’t as strong, although at times the rather stilted delivery is a little strange; the priest, Frollo for example, becomes a bit distracting. Talking of distractions, being an outdoor performance in the middle of Covent Garden the occasional noise intrusion from the main piazza is to be expected. Unfortunately, it is sometimes louder than the actors which, coupled with the ambulatory nature of the play, occasionally made it very difficult to make some lines out.
There is audience participation. One lucky member gets to play Esmerelda’s goat, others are asked to do a reading, join in the dancing or act as members of a jury. The rest of us get the chance to participate with cheers and jeers. It seems ironic how readily we succumb to the invitation to shame and pillory the innocent Quasimodo, a microcosm of mob mentality.
Isabella Van Braeckel’s set makes good use of the spaces, transformed when the lighting goes on at twilight. Cieranne Kennedy-Bell’s colourful costumes are designed perfectly to enable the many quick changes required.
The production does touch upon some of the darker elements of the original story with mention of starvation, cruelty, torture, being outcast by society and the abuse of power. There are knife fights, stabbings and intended executions by hanging. However, the dominant atmosphere is one of comedy. Lighthearted and funny from the start, the audience are invited and encouraged to contribute in what verges on a pantomime like style – in a good way – punctuated by the occasional serious and thought-provoking scene.
Overall this a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a worthy addition to the list of summer holiday outings for the whole family.
Written by: Benjamin Polya based on the novel by Victor Hugo
Directed by: Bertie Watkins
Produced by: Iris Theatre Company
Music Composed and Directed by: Matthew Malone
Set designed by: Isabella Van Braeckel
Costumes designed by: Cieranne Kennedy-Bell
Fight scenes Choreographed by: Esme Cooper
Box Office: 020 7836 5221
Booking Link: https://actorschurch.org/event/?show=0&id=873600092
Booking Until: 1 September 2019