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Theatre review: Quasimodo at the King's Head Theatre

PUBLISHED: 13:10 25 March 2013 | UPDATED: 14:27 25 March 2013

Steven Webb as Quasimodo and Zoe George as Esmeralda in Quasimodo at the Kings Head Theatre. Picture: Francis Loney

Steven Webb as Quasimodo and Zoe George as Esmeralda in Quasimodo at the Kings Head Theatre. Picture: Francis Loney

Francis Loney

It is rather poetic that as the Cathedral of Notre Dame celebrates its 850th anniversary with a new set of bells, a fresh adaptation of Quasimodo is gracing our theatres.

Steven Webb as the title character in Quasimodo at the Kings Head Theatre. Picture: Francis LoneySteven Webb as the title character in Quasimodo at the Kings Head Theatre. Picture: Francis Loney

Except this is not a new production, rather a labour of love from composer Lionel Bart, renowned for the stage musical Oliver! The piece was actually written 50 years ago but sadly never came to light during his lifetime.

Enter director Robert Chevara, who has restored this self-proclaimed ‘diamond in the rough’ and carefully polished what is a stark portrayal of prejudice and corruption.

The play exposes us to the seedy Parisian underworld, which hammers home themes of deception and greed, almost to the extent that we forget the memorable love story simmering under the surface.

The unusual detour leaves the narrative stuttering initially, especially as Quasimodo only truly takes centre stage during the climax before the interval.

But his prolonged arrival is well worth the wait. Steven Webb’s performance epitomises the contrasting layers of anger and juvenile exuberance that exists within any social recluse. His uncouth interaction with both the surroundings and fellow cast members enables him to thrive in a physically and emotionally demanding role.

Yet, Esmeralda, played by Zoë George, threatens to steal the show with her exquisite singing voice, which triumphs during group renditions, while James Wolstenholme brilliantly illustrates Priest Claude Follo’s rapid descent into aphrodisia.

The musical score is surprisingly diverse and the three-piece orchestra defies its intimate surroundings to create a cinematic atmosphere. The light-hearted numbers Abracadabra and Introducing You, in which Quasimodo charmingly tells Esmeralda the names of the Notre Dame bells, inject a welcome dose of humour in an otherwise dark and twisted tale.

The world premiere of this modern day portrayal finds a fitting home at the King’s Head, who are pioneers of experimental productions. However, the set is severely restricted and curiously resembles an arachnid building site, with ladders and scaffolding seemingly held together by a web of sellotape.

Nevertheless, Quasimodo is incredibly evocative and will surely evolve out of its current surroundings to finally claim its rightful place in the West End.

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