WithWings’ Le Bossu may be based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but Disney this ain’t. The company—whose endearing riff on Swan Lake, The Duck Pond, drew a cult following at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014—have turned to Victor Hugo’s considerably darker gothic novel for inspiration.
Not that it’s all doom and gloom – WithWings always have a witty playfulness in their adaptations of classic works, acknowledging and connecting with their audiences and irreverently skewering their source material. Here, the laughs come from an English cast pastiching French clichés, as well as the signature lo-fi props, including fire place bellows standing in for pidgeons, and the streets of Paris as a row of miniature houses.
The stage craft is reliably inventive, and the live score—including a hauntingly sung, recurring Latin mass, as well as some more comic numbers—is skillfully threaded through the piece, so that the audience is as seduced by the music as the puritanical Parisians are by the tambourine-bashing Esmeralda. The women of the company’s voices are particularly strong, and it’s a real joy to hear such technical proficiency at the Fringe.
The show’s structure could do with a bit of work—the ending is particularly sudden—and at times it feels like those darker elements of the actually quite disturbing story are slightly glossed over in the name of onstage fun, but the generosity and imagination of this piece of musical storytelling guarantees a good night out.