I had the fortune of being able to attend the opening night of the University Of Chichester Musical Theatre Performance Company production of Notre Dame. This was a particularly special occasion as it was the world premiere of a brand new musical, based on Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. Written by Ed Court, a project spanning many years finally reaches its climax. It is the familiar story of Quasimodo the bell ringer but written in a way that is perfect for musical theatre. The story is told through a narrator Pierre Gringoire, ably played by Chris Schweppe, who tells and participates in the story. This show within a show approach is a difficult one to pull off and often creates complex situations, but this cast handled it beautifully.
Anyone who has experienced previous productions by this company will know of the extremely high level of quality and professionalism injected into every show. If you have been to any of their shows in recent months, you may well recognize a few of the faces within the cast; who are seasoned veterans by this point. As with previous, their performance did not disappoint.
Adam Stickler has already played a variety of different roles in the past, but I can imagine taking on the part of Quasimodo was his biggest challenge. The character was played with a sense of naivety, power, and strength; a perfect blend. Alexandra Doar’s Esmeralda encapsulated the sensual, mysterious nature of the character, showcasing a belting vocal performance, gentle inner sensitivity, and a touch of fiery instinct. I was particularly impressed by the work of Jack Hallgate, whose Claude Frollo had me hissing under my breath. His dark vocal tones and creepy manner helped to cement the character in the right place. Praise should also go to members of the cast playing background characters, who helped to create a sense of chaos and danger in crowded scenes.
The music was a mixture of different styles and genres, mixing musical theatre with choral, opera and other elements. Conducted and orchestrated by Adam Hoskins, the live orchestra was on form; giving the production a magical cinematic feeling that brought the world to life. Although they were visible on stage, they did not deter from the story or the action surrounding the characters. The choir was equally as impressive with a beautiful blend of voice to create an almost eery feeling. The songs were catchy (I’m still humming one in my head right now) and ultimately satisfying.
The rather unusual set design should also be applauded. Said to be inspired by gothic churches, the rather complex but simple set structure helped to make the stage feel spacious, but also claustrophobic. The cast was able to weave in and out of every nook and cranny, meaning that the audience member had to look around the whole stage. The use of smoke and lighting was also impressive.
Ed Court’s Notre Dame is a tense musical drama with light edges, cinematically catchy music, thrillingly elaborate sequences and a great big heart at the centre. The performance was met with a roaring standing ovation, much deserved for the cast, crew, Ed Court and everyone else involved. If you’re looking to experience this classic story in a new way, this is the one to go to.