Hunchback is an English language adaptation of the French novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with a stark contrast between strong and weak elements. The impulse to fall back on a Tale of Two Cities comparison is immense. The stage play, which in its deference to the original novel will seem unfamiliar to those knowledgeable only of the Disney film, puts the story into the hands of two narrators: one, a poet and minor character from the novel, and the other, a mysterious waif. Their interactions drive the narrative in this beautifully designed but outpaced story.

An interesting reimagining of Hugo’s classic, but it carries a lot of caveats

The narrative framework is certainly one of the play’s strong points. Maintaining a present-tense sense of tension and intrigue is helpful to engagement when the story is embedded in the past, and the interactions between Gringoire (Josh Utting) and the aforementioned waif, C (Sarah Redford), are particularly exciting as they bounce between roles within and without that framework. But the latter character is frustrating. C says who she is is “unimportant”, even though she knows everything about the story that Gringoire would rather not tell. Her stubborn lack of identity defines her as a device, making that interesting dramatic structure a tad too bare.

These sorts of contradictions abound. The actors, for the most part, display convincing vocal range. Of particular notice is Abbie Jones as Esmeralda, whose dancing needs to believably ensnare the hearts of almost every man in the play, and it does. But the blocking and execution is quite awkward, most easily demonstrated by a scene in which an unconscious Esmeralda leaps into the arms of the person who is to carry her offstage. Direction suffers in other areas, as well. On multiple occasions, two important events happen simultaneously, and, while I admire the ambition in blocking and pace, it is impossible to follow that amount of action. The same applies to the script. The dark, moody writing is matched by a story that needs to race in order to show the events of a novel in just one hour.

The technical elements are the only part that get unqualified praise: costume was period-appropriate and aesthetically appropriate, set was innovative and striking, and lights and sound, though used in moderation, certainly enhanced the action.

Hunchback is an interesting reimagining of Hugo’s classic, but it carries a lot of caveats. Though grand in style and story, underachievement in execution leaves this production hardly Dickensian.

Reviews by Bennett Bonci

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The Blurb

A creative retelling adapted by Chiara Wakely of Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris. Hunchback follows the story of Gringoire, a poet who becomes ensnared in the destructive lives of the characters around him. He, together with a mysterious woman known only as C, relates the sorry tale of Quasimodo, the deaf and deformed bell ringer of Notre Dame and his devotion to the beautiful gypsy dancer Esmeralda. In a story so full of obsession, shame and deceit, how can we really believe what we are being told? Who is truly to blame for the inevitable tragic consequences?