It’s crunch time for the theatre company behind the first ever cathedral production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Lincolnite was invited for a behind-the-scenes peek at rehearsals.
As the fiery evening sun blasted through Lincoln Cathedral’s stained glass windows, and cries of “sanctuary!” echoed through the nave, it was clear the iconic building is just as much a character in this performance as any other.
The musical, based on Victor Hugo’s Gothic novel and including songs from the Disney adaptation, will be performed by around 200 local people, including a live orchestra and choir, between Monday, May 23 and Saturday, June 4, 2022.
Playing Quasimodo is second year University of Lincoln student Andre Buhagiar, who we met fittingly under the bells which accompany life in the city.
Andre, 20, from Siggiewi in Malta, told us they never dreamed their move to the city would see them land their first lead role, in front of almost 10,000 people.
“I’m not sure I entirely believed it at first,” Andre said. “It’s been an amazing opportunity. I wake up and I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. I could never have expected something like this.
“I love how connected everyone is. Sometimes different roles may feel disconnected to the ensemble, but I feel really connected to everyone and it’s just so much fun.”
Andre, who has been training for a career on the stage since the age of four, said they have always been a “theatre geek” and that telling a story through acting, singing and dance is something that really speaks to them.
“There are so many different aspects to Quasimodo; his physical disability, his deafness from ringing the bells for his entire life, and his naivety.
“For me, it’s been about finding that very rejected childishness to him, one that is so inquisitive, and the sense of wanting to experience the entire world, and how that turns into such a darkness inside of him, which comes out in the second act. That’s a real key to unlocking the character.”
Alongside Andre, Indrija Kustov will play Esmerelda, Ben Goode is taking on the part of Captain Phoebus De Martin, and Ben Poole will portray Dom Claude Frollo.
It will be a momentous return to the stage for the Starring Lincoln Theatre Company after the delay and ultimately the cancellation of its production of Shrek at Lincoln Castle, due to COVID-19.
Ben Poole, who is also The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s director, told us of the pride and excitement felt by the family of local actors and crew, after a three year break.
While the pandemic is still having a major impact on preparations for the show, currently keeping around 30 people away from each rehearsal, it’s a risk they were prepared for to bring one of the city’s biggest cultural events back to Lincoln Cathedral.
“Right now, we’ve had more absences because of COVID than any other time,” explained Ben, “and I guess that’s because restrictions aren’t in place anymore. That’s been really challenging. I think all shows are suffering with this, even professional shows.”
The production follows a legacy of sell-out cathedral musicals for the company, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Jekyll and Hyde, and Oliver!
With its emotive and complex score, Ben described The Hunchback of Notre Dame as his most musically difficult and ambitious production yet.
“It’s a really difficult show. The music is complicated. You have songs in Latin, some in the invented language of the Roma, colloquial language, some beautiful operatic style music, plus lots of fun songs.
“It’s a great thing if you’re coming to see the show and you don’t know it. It’s one of those stories that’s so compelling, and the music is so beautiful, it tells the story really well. You can expect to be stirred emotionally by the piece. It’s a very powerful story.”
Audiences should also expect to see a set piece promised to be “more spectacular than the moon”, an art installation suspended in the building earlier this year.
“There’s a growing sense of pride”, said Ben. “Not only in the people in our shows but also in the people who watch them. They are supporting a home-grown event and they get to see what the talented people of Lincoln can do.
“Often we import our culture, but we are making it here, so I feel really proud about that.”
Lincoln Cathedral has channelled the essence of Notre Dame in recent times, too, having depicted the iconic French Catholic cathedral during the filming of Ridley Scott’s new film Napoleon, starring Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix.
For Ben, raising the profile of the building and the city is an added bonus. “For the cathedral, it’s a fundraiser, and we have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds over the years. Plus, Hunchback is a great morality tale, as all the best shows are, and I think the cathedral is a great place to situate it.”
The Starring Lincoln Theatre Company production will be staged from Monday, May 23 until Saturday, June 4, 2022, and tickets can be purchased here.