Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews


The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama , The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama , July-03-19
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama We know that we are in the iconic French Cathedral as soon as we enter the auditorium of the collegeís Richard Burton Theatre, a beautiful, scaled down version of a major West-End venue. High in the roof we see a magnificent and large circular stained glass window. A very strong and colourful recreation of Notre Dameís acclaimed North Rose window. Designer T K Hay, in his final year at the college has also perfectly captured the dark, high rising stone pillars of the Cathedral, with Rachel Astallís lighting deepening the claustrophobic atmosphere.

There is a fifteen member church choir in their choir stalls at the back of the stage; sometimes creating, sometimes enhancing the rich atmosphere of Victor Hugoís tragic story. There is excellent playing from the orchestra, led by itís Musical Director, Michael Morwood, sometimes robust, sometimes very sensitive.

This script may be based on the Disney film version of the story but here the tale is grittily told without a single ounce of sentimentality.

Quasimodo, the hunchback is given into the hands of the Cathedralís Arch Deacon as a baby; by the time we meet him he is in his early twenties. He has a deformed lump on his back but it is not over emphasised. As played by the gleaming eyed, Joel Edwards he is a very friendly and engaging young man. A performance that totally captivates and draws us into his continuing adventures, which we share with him.

We join him up in the cathedralís bell tower where he has been confined by the odious Arch Deacon, Frollo. We get a superb rendering of this licentious clergyman from Ryan Downey. Odious perspiration seeps from every pour. Quasimodo has mastered the tolling of the bells. You can imagine your seat vibrating as they ring out over Paris.

In his cruel way Frollo was content to see Quasimodo endlessly imprisoned in the tower with only the bells for company. He hadnít reckoned with the other secret friends Quasimodo had found up there, the Caryatids. Not set in the walls but very much alive in their stony white capes and hoods that looked as if they could have been carved from stone. They told Quasimodo of the wonderful things that lay in the world beyond the Cathedral. They enabled him to make his escape and he soon joined a very happy band of gypsies. Their leader, Clopin was played with real gypsy flare by Ben Joseph.

A beautiful young lady emerges from the gypsy band, Esmeralda. She very quickly becomes the central character in the story. She wins the heart of Phoebus a dashing soldier played very dashingly by Thomas McFarlane. Glain Rhys gives an exceptionally strong and totally captivating performance as the rebellious gypsy girl and she has the most excellent and joyful singing voice.

Soon Esmeralda comes to the attention of the lustful Arch Deacon and his desire for her seems to overwhelm him. She is all he wants and he is prepared to kill to get her. He orders Quasimodo to bring her to him. He refuses and is flogged and put in the stocks. He remains there neglected and becomes very thirsty. Esmeralda brings him water. Eventually, he is released by the crowd.

He learns that Frollo has passed a death sentence on Esmeralda. He takes her, for sanctuary in the cathedral. Frollo gets the king to cancel the sanctuary and comes for her. Quasimodo now has friends around him. A fight ensues Ė Quasimodo picks up the lecherous Arch Deacon and throws him to his death down from the bell tower. There is almost a standing ovation from the packed audience but that comes later as the curtains falls, in this jewel box of a theatre, on the final chorus. We hear some of the finest ensemble singing to be heard outside of the West End. A magnificent ending to a very fine and gripping production.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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