The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Aug 6 2023 | By More

★★★★★   Rings out

Edinburgh Academy (Venue 70): Fri 4 – Tue 15 Aug 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

Captivate Theatre step out of their usual comfort zone of large-cast sure-fire banger hits with this production of lesser performed musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame and find themselves with, well, a sure-fire banger hit.

The company’s forced relocation to the Magnusson Centre of the Edinburgh Academy in Stockbridge, following the New Town Rose Theatre going up for sale, is probably not altogether welcome, but it certainly adds an intimacy to what is an already well-powered cast. And while Peter Parnell’s book has a tendency to drag, Director Sally Lyall ensures the whole thing flows along at an energetic pace.

Lewis Kerr (in crown) as Quasimodo and the cast of The Hunchback of Notre Dame from Captivate. Pic: Captivate

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is based on the Victor Hugo novel, using Alan Menken’s music and Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics from the 1996 Disney film adaptation.

It is set in early 16th century Paris, where the church reigns with as much authority as King Louis XI, and where the Roma people are reviled and banned from the city – except January 6th, a topsy turvy Feast of Fools, when the ugliest person becomes the King of Fools.

Quasimodo, the famed hunchback of the title, is a young man, nephew to the all-powerful current archdeacon of Notre Dame, Claude Frollo, who has hidden the boy in secret up among bells since taking him on, following the death of Frollo’s brother, Jehan, and the lad’s mother, a Roma woman.

Feast of Fools

Despised by his powerful uncle and half deaf from the bells he rings and maintains, Quasimodo looks down on the city, talking to the carved stone saints and gargoyles in the church roof, and steeling himself to go down and enjoy the freedom of the Feast of Fools.

The piece is told with gusto, using the whole cast as a Greek chorus to fill in the back story of how the Frollo brothers were taken in by the Church, how Claude betrayed his brother and how, in his rise to power, Claude’s resentment towards the Roma has grown into a deep and racist hatred.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame from Captivate. Pic: Captivate

This could all be so stodgy and mundane, but with the barest of sets, the strong cast ensure that the storytelling comes alive; giving depth and understanding to each of the characters, main or otherwise. There is particular attention to the details of sound balance and enunciation, equally important to such a storytelling style.

Key to the piece’s success is Frollo, who Aiden McGrath plays with power and an obviously thin veneer of respectability. He has a gorgeously round-toned singing voice and an amiable presence, which makes his control over Quasimodo, his overt racism and his clear intentions towards the charismatic Roma dancer Esmerelda, all the more chilling.

Quasimodo himself is given a clearly split personality in Lewis Kerr’s faultless performance. When with his uncle, he is frightened, gas-lit slave. Alone with his bells and his gargoyles, Kerr leaps and bounds around the stage just as his voice leaps and bounds around the luscious, if sometimes over-blown, score. Just as his character is stronger than his deformed frame would indicate, Kerr’s voice is something of a marvel.

beguiling and mysterious

In all the tellings of the backstory and twisting ensuing love story, Hudson Scheel as the beguiling and mysterious King of the Roma is always somewhere in the background. Scheel has an acrobat’s movements as the master of ceremonies, drawing the gaze to himself and passing it on to where the story will happen next.

The return of Phoebus de Martin from the Great War to take up the post Captain of the Guard at Notre Dame is the catalyst to the ensuing story. Hamish Coles gives him the necessary staunch moral rectitude of a man who has perhaps followed one-to-many orders, but is also keen to enjoy the rest and carnal recreation Paris has to offer.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame from Captivate. Pic: Captivate

That ensuing story revolves around Camila Lopez as Esmerelda. All four of the main male protagonists are in love with her, or want to control her in their own way. With more, or less purity in their hearts. Lopez ensures that these attractions are obvious, while making it clear that her own morals are clear and that her compassion is honest.

The whole company has a terrific ability to embrace the musical’s variety of styles, from a swinging 20’s cabaret vibe in Rest and Recreation, to its High Church chants and to big operatic moments. This goes a long way to balance out the musical’s inherently dark vibe.

Musical Directors Colum Findlay and Fraser Hune help keep the offstage band sharp, while Charlotte Nicholson and Mairi Cross’ costumes add just enough of a suggestion for each character, while allowing them all to work their way into the chorus.


That chorus, ten strong with another five who are understudies to the main roles, are on stage for most of the time. They are always fully engaged – whether they are Roma, statues, a howling mob or a pious congregation.

Sadly, there is no indication as to who plays which part beyond those five principals, but every one on stage and off involved in the production deserves their own personal standing ovation.

It is worth adding that this is a thought-provoking piece, which overtly asks us to consider where the monsters lie – in the heart or in appearance. And in doing so, it finds deep and chilling contemporary moral resonances, which this production takes no remorse in exploring to the full.

A production which takes a moderately good musical and gives it a telling which is miles beyond where it has any right to be, in terms of the depth, of character and most of all, of vocal performance. Bravo!

Running time: Two hours and 20 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Academy, 42 Henderson Row, EH3 5BL (Venue 70)
Fri 4 – Tue 15 August 2023
Evenings: 8pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Captivate Theatre links

Twitter: @Captivate_LTD
Facebook: @captivatetheatre
Instagram @captivatetheatre


Camila Lopez as Esmerelda and the cast of The Hunchback of Notre Dame from Captivate. Pic: Captivate



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  1. Lorraine Anderson says:

    Went to see the show last night (Thursday) it was fantastic the voices of the whole cast were absolutely amazing x

  2. Audrey T says:

    What a superb show! Wonderful cast with truly blended, harmonies and huge power and stage presence from all. Everyone in the audience and cast in tears at the end! Absolutely magnificent production! Bravo!