Review: The Hunchback of Notre Dame. CTC. Loughborough Town Hall 3-7 May 2022

Seriously you’d have to be in Seine to miss this terrifically high class. moving, dark and yet uplifting, dramatically electric amateur production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame currently showing 3-7 May at Loughborough Town Hall presented by the super talented local Christchurch Theatre Club plus an exemplary collection of vocally gifted members of local choirs. The musical may not be as well known as some but it sure rings all the right bells in terms of a brilliant night of musical theatre.

The story is based on the Victor Hugo novel and features songs from the animated Disney film. The Academy award nominated music is by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz with a book by Peter Parnell. The central theme is ‘What makes a monster and what makes a man?’

In brief the story is thus: It begins as the bells sound through the famed Notre Dame cathedral in fifteenth century Paris. Born as a ‘hump backed monster’ – a potentially orphaned baby – the cruelly named Quasimodo ( meaning: partly formed) is brought up in virtual isolation in the bell tower of the Parisian cathedral. At the age of twenty he is slaving as the deformed bell ringer who now longs to be part of society – out there – in Paris. From up on high he looks down on the people below where everyone is revelling in the Feast Of Fools. Held captive by his devious caretaker, the archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo, he escapes for the day and joins the boisterous crowd, only to be treated cruelly by all but the beautiful and wilful gypsy girl, Esmeralda. Quasimodo isn’t the only one captivated by her free spirit though. The handsome Captain Phoebus de Martin and Frollo are equally enthralled. As the three vie for her attention, Frollo embarks on a mission to destroy the gypsies – and it is now up to Quasimodo to save them all!

The Hunchback of Notre Dame musical has a sweeping score and a powerful story meaning that you’ll get swept away on a tide of emotion by the magic of this unforgettable show. ‘Hunchback’ showcases themes such as faith, power, disability, discrimination, isolation and sacrifice offering powerful messages of acceptance, surely very relevant to our lives today.

The fabulously performed lead characters are Quasimodo (Craig Butterworth), Esmeralda (Holly Easter), Dom Claude Frollo (David Burton), Phoebus de Martin (Ash Bright) and Clopin Trouillefou (Rowan Dixon). Frederic Charlus is played by Jarrod Makin and Madame by Liz Berrisford. The narration and other parts are performed by various storytellers, Jack Hardy, Aaron Murray, Anita Benson, Carl Unwin, Jordan Cope, Laura Moore, Lucy Banks, Lucy Brown. As the stone characters that Quasimodo talks with, the narrators performing them add some levity and humour to the piece. The congregation and choir are comprised of sixteen talented local performers whose vocal power and harmonies that move even the most unsaintly to tears. Or maybe I am just a big wuss of a reviewer.

The CTC production is directed with passion and creativity by Julie Easter, musically directed by the always sparkling Vicki Hing and deftly choreographed by Michael Gamble. The fifteen strong orchestra fill the stage and theatre with a fantastic score that makes the heart swell with emotion and quickly race when the plot heats up. This Hunchback of Notre Dame musical production is worth coming to for the expressive music alone. The multi-level set is by Scenery Solutions and the fantastic costumes are from Charades Theatrical Costume Hire, St Helens. Both add great practical and visual professionalism to the piece. The lighting and sound are the usual very high professional standard that regular visitors to CTC productions have come to expect.

Craig Butterworth is outstanding as Quasimodo, both vocally through song and text and in his body work and his understanding of the sensitive and ultimately sad and disabled character. Butterworth plays Quasimodo very sympathetically with a degree of deafness (from the bells not born deaf) by using some sign language taught by BSL advisor Trish Wright. This is the first time I have seen Craig Butterworth in a lead role and look forward to the day when another such opportunity should arise for him.

Holly Easter’s vibrant Esmeralda shows off the actor’s confident and technically good vocal dexterity and her ability to take a character that could easily be caricatured and make it her own giving us a very human performance allowing us to see the compassionate woman beneath the surface of the incorrect idea of a simplistically wanton gypsy woman.

The songs for David Burton’s scheming Frollo and Ash Bright’s Phoebus get a bit Martin Guerre when the scenes become more dramatically manic in the second act and this reviewer really likes their vocal control and power to convince the audience of their intentions, good or bad, both with naturalistic performances.

One character that stands out is Rowan Dixon’s Clopin. It stands out due to the character’s eccentric nature and Dixon’s confident playing of it but in a stage world where all accents are done in English this reviewer isn’t wholly convinced in the decision to do it in a cod French accent.

The entire talented cast give their dedicated all throughout and it is yet another case of an amateur company coming back with a big dramatic production after the lengthy Covid lockdown period. Like any other company they need an audience to play to and frankly to survive financially to continue to entertain and follow their musical theatre dreams and encourage the same dreams in their new and older cast members. Without paying customers any business will fold. I urge you to book for the rest of the week. You’ll not regret it at all. Tonight’s audience give it a rightfully deserved rapturous applause at the end and for several of the songs. Et, monsieur dames when you have seen the spectacle (as the French like to call such dramas) and enjoyed it, be like Quasimodo and ring those church and mobile phone bells good and hard. Then tell all your friends to leave their places of sanctuary and pop down to Loughborough Town Hall this week and revel in the thrilling tale of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Prior to writing this review I had a hunch this was going to be good, knowing the high quality of the work of CTC, and I was right – it is Gothically Great! Get your seats ICI.


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