High up in the dark bell tower of Notre Dame, an isolated hunchback lives with his best friends – the bells. Frollo (Mark Portnell) has hidden Quasimodo (Tommy Figgins) up here for his entire life, on the basis that his face is too ugly for the world; he would be killed if he went out into the streets of Paris. Le Bossu is a story by Victor Hugo, made well-known thanks to the Disney hit ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’. That film, like this production by withWings, makes the story palatable to a wider audience, with humour, song and a prominent love story, placing less emphasis on the horror of the French revolution.
Bedlam Theatre is the perfect venue for this performance, its stained glass window stretching high above the stage. Designers Mark Portnell and Will Gillibrand have transformed the dark space with a gothic twist, using props and sets to recall the bustling streets of Paris and a lonely tower room. Images are created imaginatively, with two planks of wood representing the congregation in a church and bellows to beautifully represent the pigeons. Movement is also used to great effect with director Helen Kate Lindley choosing to make use of the physicality of the performers bodies. For example, the scene where Esmerelda (Izzy Jones) is tempting Frollo, and she is lifted and spun mesmerisingly around the stage in her bright red skirt. Additionally, the performers as bells are a beautiful and poignant touch.
Much of the story runs smoothly but occasionally moments of audience interaction are attempted to little effect. This actually hinders the storytelling and feels slightly out of step with the rest of the performance. There are some repetitions that begin to feel a little tired. The production’s better moments come when we are swept up in the impressive and varied musical score, composed by Christian Eccles-Cannon, Tom Figgins and Izzy Jones; and when we are awe-struck by the vibrancy of the design.
But why retell this story at all? Aside from the fact that it is a musical and visual treat, it tackles the prominent topic of how we treat those who are different in a beautiful and accessible way. This is a production for the family, to enjoy the gorgeous retelling of a beloved tale by a talented and inventive company and take home something to think about too.