Review: Powerful performance brings The Hunchback of Notre Dame to life

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Veteran actor and director leads a young cast in a dynamic performance of the classic tale. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Adapted by Tim Kelly
1880 Hall, Surry Hills

By John Pierce

The disastrous fire that gutted Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris this year has inspired the creative minds of Artes Christi to take on the mammoth task of producing American Tim Kelly’s adaptation of Victor Hugo’s giant tome, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

It is a harrowing yet poignant work of misguided love and loyalty, lust and self-aggrandisement, its intensity and brutality mitigated to some degree by Hugo’s injection of dark humour.

Veteran actor, playwright and director Donald Macdonald is once again at the helm of the production; it is a wise choice. He is supported by a mostly young cast whose featured players bring a dynamic reality to the epic work.

At the heart of the tale is the sad life of the “twisted pup” Quasimodo (Carl Di Terlizzi), the ugly foundling abandoned on the steps of Notre Dame Cathedral and adopted by its archdeacon, Dom Claude Frollo (Paul Kennedy).

Fast forward 20 years and the citizens of Paris are invited by order of the king to join in the merriment and “lawful pleasures” of the Festival of Fools. The arrival of the dancing gypsy girl Esmeralda (Mairead McCaughan) interrupts the festivities, with calls for her to be punished summarily dismissed by Frollo in his role as king’s attorney.

Carl Di Terlizzi as Quasimodo. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

It brings with it the first indication of Frollo’s obsessive ulterior motives, which will ultimately present Quasimodo with his greatest challenge. It also introduces the darkly humorous interplay between the king of beggars, Clopin (Criostoir McCaughan), his queen, Elizabeth (Zarema Borreggine), and the aspiring playwright Pierre Gringoire (Joshua Gereis), plus the realisation that Esmeralda is not only the object of Frollo’s sinister affections but also of Quasimodo’s forlorn dreams.

But Esmeralda has eyes for another, the vain captain in the Paris Guard, Phoebus Chateaupers (Theo Hatzistergos), her “sun god”. The pace quickens as Frollo’s villainy comes to the fore and the bellringer Quasimodo’s plight worsens.

This story of heroes, false-heroes and villains driven by different motives and emotions is full of highs and lows. It is to the credit of Macdonald and his young cast that it comes together with such force. There are some confronting moments, thankfully eased from time-to-time by the Clopin-Gringoire interplay. It is powerful theatre, reaching great heights in its best moments.

Paul Kennedy and Mairead McCaughan are standouts as Frollo and Esmeralda. Competing with them for top honours are Criostoir McCaughan, Zarema Borreggine, Joshua Gereis and Theo Hatzistergos. There are delightful performances, too, by Rebecca Hatton as the innkeeper and Charlotte McGrory as Venus.

Special mention must be made, though, of Carl Di Terlizzi for his superb portrayal in the toughest role of the play as Quasimodo.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame runs from 4-20 October at the 1880 Hall, 235 Devonshire St, Surry Hills.  The play is supporting the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and the Aid to the Church in Need Sri Lanka Appeal. Bookings via www.theword.org.au or ph 1800101201.

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