The Hunchback of Notre Dame @ Rockdale Town Hall

Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 (reviewed opening night 29 September).

Whether you are a fan of the Disney film or the book, or a complete novice to the story, you will thoroughly enjoy this musical of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The Regals Musical Society’s production at Rockdale Town Hall is quite simply, a masterpiece.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (circa 1830) by Victor Hugo is a gothic novel embedded in French society and religion as it was in 1482, an era notorious for its weirdly intense infatuation and hatred of witchcraft, and paranoid suspicion of anything smeling faintly heretical (this was a time when the world was still regarded as flat, and you couldn’t question it otherwise). Hugo’s novel also leans into heavy exposition of French architecture, at a time when new fangly developments were in vogue. It’s essentially a love letter to the people of France to urge them to preserve their cultural heritage. The book gives sentience to the famous Notre Dame cathedral in the form of talking statues, who inform the conscience of a humble bell servant, Quasimodo (a name which literally means “half formed”).

Quasimodo is a prototype of the ‘afflicted character’ that Hollywood loves to embrace; a little bit Frankenstein, a little bit Forrest Gump. Quasimodo is raised by his cruel uncle Frollo after his hippy parents die, and is regarded as a “curse” for being born with a deformity (a severe hunchback) and deafness. When the gypsies are allowed to come to town during the “Festival of the Fools”, a celebration which Frollo (now the town’s priest) despises, he develops a crush on one of them, Esmeralda, as do several other men who try to enslave her. But Esmeralda is no hussy, and finds an affinity with Quasimodo, who is mercilessly bullied and taunted by the townspeople for his monstrous appearance. He retreats to his bell tower, the sanctuary, where Frollo tells him he belongs, because he is “too ugly” to be seen. Quasimodo’s childlike imagination and innocence cannot comprehend that Frollo is corrupt, full of pyromaniacal lust for Esmeralda, but with the help of his talking gargoyles, he is emboldened to rescue Esmeralda from Frollo’s evil passion.

With a premise as breathtaking as this, it’s no surprise that the book has been commercialised into several highly successful films, including the Disney version (later adapted as a musical play by Peter Parnell on which this production is based). The overall result is truly inspiring, creating very atmospheric scenes that pulls you into this hauntingly beautiful drama, and tugs at the heartstrings.

The program credits a cast of thousands, including co-directors (Anthony Halpin and Flynn Crewes), musical director (Emma Snellgrove), assistant musical director (Jonah Eskander) and stage manager (Callum Platt).

The casting choices are brilliant, with Daniel Wakeford playing our loveable hero Quasimodo. Something cracks inside when you hear him meekly croaking “Esmeralda”. Cue tissues. His scenes with Frollo (Declan Dowling) are riveting and gut-wrenching, watching the trauma being inflicted by some pretty messed up parenting, and feeling powerless to stop it. Dowling gives Frollo that creepy sanctimonious vibe that is only heightened by the devilish red glow that engulfs him. In contrast, Joshua Houston as Captain Phoebus is a bit like Chris Hemsworth, more ocker and smooth talking in saving the day as a cathedral guard who has turned his back on Frollo’s corruption. Jonathan Holmes is also grand as Clopin, the leader of the gypsy gang hiding in the Court of Miracles (doesn’t Hugo just have a way with names?!)

The belle in the celebration is of course, Esmeralda (Alyssa Bishara) who is more fiery, assertive and action-orientated than any damsel-in-distress. Bishara is believable, warm and strong as a woman who values her integrity and self-expression above everything else. That kiss on the cheek she gives to Quasimodo is everything.

The supporting ensemble cast, including the anthropomorphic statues, are very entertaining, creating the world of Quasimodo and the claustrophobic cloisters which the characters inhabit. A memorable standout is Benjamin Oliver who is given a very clever contraption to play Saint Aphrodisius, a martyr who was beheaded. We could spill the tea on how it’s done, but best to leave it as a surprise.

With a fully packed out theatre on opening night and a relatively short run till 8 October, it’s best not to leave it till last minute to get tickets to see this show. It has everything a musical could ask for, and so much more.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is playing at Rockdale Town Hall until 8 October. For tickets and showtimes, go to

Images: Grant Leslie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *