Theatre Review: Quasimodo - King's Head Theatre ✭✭✭✭✭

Lionel Bart’s 
Steven Webb as Quasimodo
Photo by Francis Lorney
King's Head Theatre

Review by Claire Spence

22nd March 2013: 15th-century Paris. Outside of the Notre Dame de Paris a woman abandons a baby, so abnormal in appearance the onlookers cry the only Christian thing to do is to kill it. Yet, Claude Frollo (the tortured James Wolstenholme), in the opening song, See Him Grow, tells how he will raise the child as his own and name it Quasimodo (Steven Webb), meaning unfinished one. But, Quasimodo is deafened by the bells of Notre Dame which adds to his twisted limbs and mutilated face and further isolating him leaving only the stone gargoyles and the bells as his only friends.
An incident brings Quasimodo down to the streets of Paris and through a misunderstanding he is ordered 20 lashes as punishment by Captain Phoebus de Chateaupers (the dashing Iestyn Arwel). As he begs for water to no avail, Esmeralda, (impressive Zoe George), takes pity and offers him a drop of water and everything changes for Quasimodo. This production is highly charged and the sexual tension is delicately captured between Webb and George and with lines such as, “They will kill you and I will die” and “I am deaf but I can still read your lips, and your eyes” it is hard not to root for Quasimodo and Esmeralda…

Steven Webb gives an impressive performance as Quasimodo. His gentle, yet effective choices from his mannerisms down to the makeup create a human character out of something which, for such an iconic role, could easily been played over the top. The interchange between his laboured speaking to his beautiful singing is a reflection of Quasimodo’s ugliness on the outside and his beauty within.

Steven Webb as Quasimodo
Zoe George as Esmerelda
Photo by Francis Lorney
The rest of cast play their roles and sing their songs with passion and commitment. They also successfully play multiple roles with impressive transformations of characters onstage. It is evident the director Robert Chevara put his heart and soul into this production and he must feel lucky he came across this previously unproduced musical. It is likely Chevara may get a reputation for uncovering gems after scoring a success in 2012 with the first London production of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carré since its West End premiere in the 1970s. Lionel Bart’s Quasimodo is based on Victor Hugo's 1831 novel Notre Dame de Paris, and the words and music were written in 1963. It is hard to believe this last work by the Oliver! composer has taken 50 years to gain its World Premiere.

The crew are all experts in their field and this high calibre is reflected in the production. A simple set design by Christopher Hone utilises a labyrinth of ladders to symbolise depth and height of the bell tower of the majestic Notre Dame. A mezzanine area on the audience’s stage right provides the solace Quasimodo but also the gallows for the dramatic poignant conclusion.

Jonathan Lipman’s costume design is intricate and spot-on from the red leather, studs sparking the sexual and seeding image of the underworld in Topsy Turvy Day, and the opulence of the church in the elegant robes of Claude Frollo. Seth Rook Williams lighting design effortlessly enhances the production. The pianist and Musical Director, Peter Mitchell, accompanist for BBC2’s popular The Choir, will, I predict be reviving this musical again in the near future and Lee Proud, former Resident Choreographer for the musical Billy Elliot, utilises his skills to create an exciting and varied choreography which is squeezed into every onstage nook and cranny.

The King's Head Theatre, London has been transformed beyond recognition for this production and its recent collaboration with Multi-award winning Adam Spreadbury-Maher, its second ever Artistic Director in March 2010, has relaunched the venue with a revolutionary opera and theatre programme and is a real contender to be king of the off-West-End circuit.

Lionel Bart’s Quasimodo is a gem of a show and a rare treat. Even if you’re not a fan of musicals I recommend it but, with its subject matter I wouldn’t say its one for the youngsters, but anyone over the age of puberty should trot up to Angel to see before it ends on April 13th.

Five Stars ✭✭✭✭✭

Listings information


King’s Head Theatre
115 Upper Street
N1 1QN

Wednesday 20 March to Saturday 13 April 

Tuesday - Saturday at 7.15pm
Sunday at 3.00pm

Saturday 13 April at 3.00pm and 7.15pm

Tickets: £15.00 - £25.00

Box office: 
020 7478 0160