Quasimodo at the King’s Head Theatre
Lionel Bart’s little-known musical based on Victor Hugo’s novel Notre-Dame de Paris was sadly never seen by the composer, who died in 1999 with the script still incomplete. Bart shot to fame in the early 60s after his musical hit Oliver! and began writing Quasimodo shortly afterwards in 1963. It receives its world premiere at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington this month, after director Robert Chevara took on the sizable project of creating the musical from the almost draft-like remnants of Bart’s work.
And yet the production still feels in its draft stages. The editing and additions necessary to produce a complete musical from Bart’s work mean that the overall effect is one of patchwork – some scenes jarring horribly with the next, the dialogue varying wildly in tone, and the overall mood of the musical veering between humorous, darkly sexual and romantic. Strange insertions of 21st century, too-casual language into the poetic prose of Hugo’s novel feel discordant, with this incongruity transferring over to the set and costumes. A priest is dressed in his cassock, a beggar dressed in rags: fine. But Phoebus, the Captain of the Guard in fishnets and red leather trousers? Quasimodo in a hoodie?
Technical and production details aside, the band does an excellent job of bringing to life Bart’s evocative and moving score in the small space. The performers work tirelessly to keep the pace in a musical that has many twists and turns. Zoë George as Esmeralda stands out as a superb new talent to watch, her voice strong and pure and a complete joy to listen to. She gives the impression that her talent is effortless; she could fill a West End auditorium as easily as she could the King’s Head. Steven Webb as Quasimodo has a beautiful voice, but his physicality as the hunchback is inconsistent throughout the performance – frustrating, as when it is done, it is done movingly. James Hume as Pierre Gringoire is notable for his sweet voice and even sweeter character, but is unfortunately drowned out by the stronger members of the cast.
It is in this way that the piece is characterised by contrasts: where it succeeds, it succeeds brilliantly, but each success is often strangely accompanied by an odd directorial choice that jars with the viewer. Quasimodo, for now, is a work-in-progress, but it has ambitions to be something much bigger.
Quasimodo is at the King’s Head Theatre until 13th April 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Quasimodo here: