Tuesday, June 18

The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Manchester Cathedral

Gargoyles watch gargoyles as Manchester Cathedral becomes Notre Dame.

Who needs scenery when you can stage a musical about a gothic cathedral in a gothic-style cathedral that was built over 600 years ago?  National Youth Music Theatre, all members aged 23 or under, have done just that this week for their production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Manchester Cathedral.

So many little touches were added throughout the evening to blend the building and the show together, like George Dennett as Frollo using a censer to spread incense across the auditorium as the last entrants were taking their seats.  And the chorus of gargoyles (the Hunchback’s imaginary friends) singing under the cathedral’s own magnificent gargoyles (be sure to look up if you see the show as those sitting around me would have missed them had I not pointed them out).

We were supposed to watch two actors take on the role of Quasimodo, Adam Pugh as the speaking and singing voice, and deaf actor Ciaran O’Brien as the physical embodiment, accompanying Adam using sign language.  Unfortunately, Ciaran tested positive for Covid during rehearsals and will only be able to play the role from Friday.  However, the audience at the second performance on Thursday night were treated to a special pre-show song (Heaven’s Light), so that Ciaran could give us a taste of his Quasimodo.  It was so moving to watch, and I could tell the audience felt so privileged to get a glimpse of it.

Then on with the show, and what a show it was.  To hear an angelic choir, soaring orchestra and stellar cast (conducted by Jordan Li-Smith) delivering the hit songs from the 1996 Disney film was a dream come true.

A few standout moments, it is so hard to choose, include George Dennett as Frollo (a truly towering performance – he will make a great Javert in Les Misérables one day) delivering “Hellfire”.  I must praise co-lighting designers Douglas Green and Harvey Nowak-Green for literally bathing the stage in red light during that number.

Also, Lois Chapman (as Esmerelda) and Thomas Ibbs (as former soldier turned Cathedral guard Pheobus) blended their voices so beautifully in the ballad “Someday”.  Quite the contrast to earlier in the evening where Thomas was brandishing a sword; I never thought I would see sword-fighting in a cathedral.

And, of course, no review of The Hunchback of Notre Dame would be complete without mentioning Quasimodo.  Adam Pugh did not arch his back, and aside from a piece of fabric that was made to look like bone at the back of his shirt, he did not display the stereotypical look of Quasimodo.  But he told Quasimodo’s story through his eyes and a voice that soared from one side of the cathedral to the other.  The rest was left to the audience’s imagination.

All in all, a truly unforgettable night.  If you can; buy a ticket to see the “bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells of Notre Dame” (and indeed the magnificent Manchester Cathedral) before it’s too late, do it!

The Hunchback of Notre Dame continues at Manchester Cathedral until Saturday. https://nymt.org.uk/2021-season-productions/the-shows-2021/

Reviewer: Rob Brown

Reviewed: 12th August 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★