It makes Bat Out Of Hell look like Hedda Gabler, but I sort of digged Notre Dame de Paris. With Vegas levels of ostentation and superfluousness, this is big and brash ‘spectacle-theatre’ – but performed with immaculate conviction and impossible to leave without a smile on your face.
Imagine the heart-pounding ballads (and unadulterated hamminess) of Bat Out Of Hell combined with the ostentation, production values and indeed acrobatic prowess of Cirque du Soleil – and you pretty much have Richard Cocciante and Luc Plamondon’s bonkers Notre Dame de Paris. Maybe I need to throw the campiness of RuPaul’s Drag Race into the mix (on the offchance there wasn’t enough in the aforementioned references) to really this show justice.
Ahead of its London run at the Coliseum (and having toured the world for donkeys years but never quite winning British critics over in previous reiterations), Enzo Products Ltd and Adam Blanshay Productions’ import is unapologetically lavish ‘spectacle-theatre’. But an utterly endearing spectacle at that.
It’s the sort of piece that’s intensely easy for critics to throw under a bus – but it’s impossible to ignore or fault the conviction of the production (or any of the individual performances) or to entirely sh!t on a show with an ensemble (a vast mix of dancers and superhumanly competent acrobats – the rumours do seem to hold true that French ones really are the best in the world) quite as sublime as Notre Dame de Paris offers.
Granted – for all the money that’s been thrown at it, there’s a ricketiness to proceedings. But actually (as a lover of all things Camp and rough-around-the-edges), they made me enjoy it all the more. I loved the fact the leads smouldered and dropped to their knees in borderline-hysterical agony whilst donning Britney mics, and to watch the flimsy ‘stone’ pillars autonomously travel around the stage and occasionally grind up against leading characters. I’m still picturing a couple of people inside each, waddling around the stage like little penguins – and hoping for the life of me that’s how they worked.
The story leaves a little to be desired, but few – if any – are in attendance to actually find out what ‘happens’. Relayed on a monitor a couple of miles above the action, the English translation is tricky to keep up with – particularly from the stalls (where you really do have to make a choice between ‘watching’ or ‘reading’ the show, both is usually impossible due to the tempo of the score). But being somewhat in the dark about the exact conversations going on almost added to the wackiness of my experience – and the occasional oddly-translated lyric I did catch (‘give me the pleasure of your unpolluted body’ for instance) made me feel like I probably wasn’t missing a great deal.
I’m conscious this may seem like one long string of catty backhanded compliments, but I really do feel grateful for witnessing such a unique show – and in particular, seeing that terrific ensemble give it all they’ve got. ‘I’m never going to see anything quite like that again, even if I wanted to…’ was perhaps my overarching feeling on the Northern line home – Notre Dame de Paris is definitely a one-of-a-kind show, unlikely to please those who like their theatre cerebral or ‘no-frills’. But for those who escape to the theatre for pure entertainment factor or to see something unlike anything they’ll have the opportunity to witness again, I’d say – genuinely – that it’s bang on the money.