The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Date 7th April 2023
Society Benchmark Musical Theatre
Venue New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth
Type of Production Musical
Director Nick Williams
Musical Director Louise Helyer
Choreographer Helen Stoddart

Report

Author: Mark Donalds

Sometimes when you settle into your seat and the orchestra starts to play, you just know that you are about to witness something great. That was the feeling I got as the orchestra struck up and The Hunchback of Notre Dame got underway. I was not disappointed.

The musical is based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel of the same name, and it uses songs from Disney’s 1996 film adaptation. Having neither read the book nor seen the film, and having only a rudimentary knowledge of the story, this was all exciting stuff. The visual impact of the massive, multi-level set, representing the inside of the cathedral, was huge. Add to this Lee Stoddart’s mesmerising lighting, the beautiful sound of Louise Helyer’s fourteen-piece orchestra and the choir in the side boxes singing so angelically, it was sensory overload time!

As I have come to expect with this company, and Nick Williams’ direction, all the main characters had been thoughtfully developed. Ben Horner played Quasimodo beautifully, showing us his innocence and vulnerability, with an inner strength and courage. Quasimodo’s stutter was well judged – never too much – and Ben’s melodic tenor voice reflected both sides of his character perfectly. We could have wept with him when his beloved Esmeralda died. Ruari Metcalfe has a rich and powerful voice and used it to good effect showing us the cruelty and hypocrisy of Frollo, the jealous Archdeacon who was supposed to care for Quasimodo but just bullied him and tried to steal his love.

I could not have asked for a better Esmeralda than Bee Anderson. Everything she does on stage has such poise and elegance. An excellent singer, she easily portrayed not only her character’s fiery passion, but also her humanity – a trait sadly lacking in Paris at the time it seems. Adam Fox is another actor who is always interesting to watch, and he portrayed Phoebus to perfection – such a good singer with excellent diction, we didn’t miss a word. Matt Gibbins gave a strong and amusing performance as Clopin, the King of Truands, eventually helping to rescue Esmeralda from being burnt at the stake.

The ensemble gave huge support as gypsies and statues with some strong and impassioned singing, executing Helen Stoddart’s imaginative choreography with flair. The quality and colour of the costumes throughout was tremendous, adding greatly to the atmosphere. I particularly liked the clever way the statues and gargoyles were represented. We must not forget the choir who sang from the boxes at the side of the stage, surrounding us with sound and making us feel we were inside the cathedral.

The quality full-colour programme gave us all we needed to know about the show, some interesting rehearsal photos and pictures and biographies of the entire cast and creatives.

This is only the second book show that this young group has done but, true to their name, Benchmark are proving themselves to be the standard by which everyone else must be measured. Thank you, Nick Williams, for having the vision to bring this musical to the Portsmouth stage and giving us a superb evening’s entertainment!