WithWings certainly ruffled a few feathers with their storming 2014 run of The Duck Pond at Bedlam. This year they’re back with another musically embellished, physically nuanced interpretation of one of France’s greatest stories – the bellringer of Notre Damme, as penned by Victor Hugo. Disney’s out of the window here – withWings have forged a thriving, gripping story that, while emotionally and politically pertinent, bears all the hallmarks of being a rompingly good time.
A large factor in this is the stellar musical efforts from the entire cast – oscillating between a variety of instruments and vocal arrangements. These interludes did more than simply establish a tonal setting, they also drove the narrative forward and dissected the mental anxieties of characters – particularly a superbly stoic performance by the actor portraying Claude Frollo. The absence of a cast list online seems somewhat irrelevant – the company operated with such instinctive cohesiveness that the performance skipped along with a graceful elegance and polished finish.
The set was a hulking behemoth of a creation – full of organ pipes and rope based swings. It was a marvellously ominous construction, full of little touches and neat tricks. The design in general was equally innovative – particularly the use of bellows and their extravagant subplot. At times this through the pacing slightly – Esmerelda’s first liberation by Quasimodo happening with an abrupt lack of tension, while the death of a pigeon is left explored for a far greater length of time during the 65 minute show.
One of the greatest touches was the emphasis (though never hamfisted mind) placed on Esmeralda – a notably foreign woman, here shown to be conflated with sexual seduction and moral decay. It’s a bold and modern theme to play upon, and one that succeeds with the requisite strength – a didactic echo through time as well as a clear signal of story-telling prowess.
Harbouring a somewhat left field love for the recent (‘recent’) French musical based on the novel, seeing the show turned into a punchy one hour was an exciting treat. WithWings have digested and dissected Hugo’s text, still maintaining (and often building upon) the thematic elements present while also injected a trademark sense of fun and theatrical revelry. Le Bossu is a wonderful theatrical experience and a testament to a vibrant Fringe culture – Bedlam’s stellar programme has succeeded once again.