Notre Dame De Paris Returns To London Looking Outdated And Clumsy

Notre Dame de Paris, London Coliseum ★★☆☆☆

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Notre Dame De Paris Returns To London Looking Outdated And Clumsy Notre Dame de Paris, London Coliseum 2
Photo: Alessandro Dobici

Notre Dame de Paris is returning to London for the second time since its inception in 1998. Telling the story of the ill-fated love between bell-ringer Quasimodo and the gypsy Esmerelda, the production enjoys unrivalled success in its native France and hopes its short return to the West End will ring more bells than the last visit when a poor translation was blamed for a lacklustre critical reception. Londonist was invited to view the show in Paris in advance of its short trip to London later this month.

Photo: Alessandro Dobici

It is inescapable: this is a French musical, in French, with all the trappings of French production. There is no live music — performers sing along to a backing track in the name of consistency. Aware that this is unheard of in the West End, the English National Opera has been drafted in to play alongside the backing track but not replace it altogether. To avoid criticism of a second-rate translation, the production will be sung in its original French with English surtitles provided pour les Anglais. Neither of these measures really address the problem they’re intended to solve.

The production team is immensely proud that the show has remained unchanged since 1998 — and it shows. The costumes look horrendously cheap and outdated. The choreography was last trendy in the late-90s. Even the enormous wall, the literal bedrock of the performance, is old hat when considered alongside more contemporary visuals in almost any other current production.

Photo: Alessandro Dobici

Regrettably the casting also lacks the diversity of a contemporary production. Quasimodo’s disability is clumsily handled by an able-bodied actor and an unimaginative costume department. Esmerelda is played by a middle-class Lebanese woman with no attempt, we are told, to include someone from the Romany travelling community to tell their story. The only nod to diversity is that only one cast member from France’s largest production is French. Quel dommage!

Sold as transcending musical theatre, it is not entirely clear why this show is decamping to England for a second ring of the bell. The late addition of surtitles and the ENO are unlikely to distract the West End audience from an outmoded production deeply in need of refreshing.

Notre Dame de Paris, London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4ES. Tickets from £35, 23-27 January 2019.

Last Updated 18 January 2019