The scene is Notre Dame. A hunchback ‘hunches’ over in the bell-tower. A monolithic organ stretches up the back wall, standing guard over the proceedings. What follows is a thoughtful, if overly faithful take on Victor Hugo's novel
A true knack for effortless ensemble work.
Quirky theatre makers withWings made waves in 2014 with Duck Pond, their playful, inventive rebirth of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake set in a supernatural fairground, complete with a hook-a-duck and some highly imaginative ensemble staging. After the company's past success – earning them a sell-out run and our own prestigious Bobby Award – the stakes are clearly raised.
Le Bossu ('the hunchback') shows all of the trappings of the company's trademark style, blending synchronised movement with feverish dance pieces and a surreal, hilarious use of props – whether playing pigeons with a pair of bellows or flicking through a copy of 'Le Sunday Times'. withWings manage to move, sing, and play together in seamless harmony from start to finish, showing a true knack for effortless ensemble work.
There are glimpses of real brilliance in the show's gorgeous compositions, Izzy Jones' breathtaking dances as the gypsy traveller Esmeralda, and some knockout visual comedy (ignoring some limp dictionary jokes). But these moments are too brief, let down by a wafer-thin narrative about sexual guilt that proves too earnest for the company's successfully freewheeling style. Despite cutting down Hugo's sizeable novel to a mere twenty-seven pages of script, they never really manage to turn the story into something of their own making, and the show suffers for it.
As a stand-alone piece, there is plenty to enjoy in its stark staging and inventive dramatic flair. For those already familiar with the company's usual work, Le Bossu will inevitably disappoint.