Interview with…Robert Rhodes

The actor chatted to us about taking on the role of Quasimodo in Iris Theatre’s production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

What can we expect from this retelling of this classic story? Our version of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ is based more on the classic Victor Hugo novel than the Disney version, but rest assured all of the original characters are featured… even Djali the goat makes an appearance!  It’s an immersive promenade production so expect lots of audience interaction and journeys through the different locations made famous by the novel. The performance is also actor-muso which means that the majority of the score is being played live on stage by us actors as we perform the story! All in all it’s a high-energy production which guarantees to immerse you into the world of 15th century France.

How do you see the character Quasimodo? Quasimodo is so interesting; there’s so much depth to him. He’s such an innocent person and doesn’t have much perception on the real world after being infantilised and lied to by Monsignor Frollo for all of his life, but he is now becoming a rebellious teenager where he is questioning what is right and wrong and is torn between his heart and what he has been told.He has been victimised from birth because of the way that he looks and throughout the course of the play manages to make real connections and through these almost makes peace with his own self hatred. Playing him is extra special to me because being born with a rare birthmark on my face which I had removed, I too had to come to terms with the fact that I looked different from the other kids and with the help of my family and friends learned to accept and love myself for who I am.

What was it initially that made you want to be involved with this production?  As a young child I loved the story and felt it resonated with me growing up. I also have a very keen interest in immersive theatre and love to be kept on my toes as an actor interacting directly with the audience! The beauty is that you never know what reaction you will get and as an actor you just have to go with it and keep the story flowing! I also found the idea of working with Iris Theatre heavily appealing as they are a charity which works to promote accessibility to the arts for people from all walks of life. I was lucky enough to catch their Free Open Air Theatre performances last year at The Scoop and think it is absolutely vital for projects such as these to able to continue, as West End tickets can be expensive and it’s so important that everyone has the option to experience great theatre!

Why do you think this story resonates so much with audiences? Because although the characters are in extreme situations they are still very relatable.  Unfortunately, even today, we live in a society where people are shunned because of how they look, or their race, their social class or even just for the art they create and this play ultimately takes all of these themes and (through much struggle) resolves them in a way of good defeating bad. I think there is a lot to be learnt from the story, take for example Quasimodo, he is hated and bullied just for being born and then by the end of the play becomes the true hero and really displays that true beauty comes from within regardless of looks, social class or status. As my mother used to tell me… “Never judge a book by its cover!”

How have rehearsals been going? The rehearsal process has been absolutely incredible! I have never felt such a sense of joy and passion in a rehearsal room as I have working on this production. Myself, Katie, Ed, Darrie, Izzy and Max got on like a house on fire from the first day and it hasn’t been any less enjoyable since! Our director, Bertie Watkins, is brilliant and has been so on it when it comes to working this as an immersive production as well as being open to any ideas or discoveries we have made during rehearsal. Matthew Malone, our musical director, and composer has created some absolutely incredible music to accompany the show and has been so supportive to us all throughout the process (especially for myself… I couldn’t even shake a maracca on day one!. I cannot wait to bring the joy of the rehearsal room to the stage.

Have you a favourite moment in the show? It’s so hard to choose – I’ve really fallen in love with the whole thing… But if I had to pick one it would have to be the concluding part of the show where we move into the actual church.There’s nothing quite like being able to perform some of the most iconic scenes in literature in the actual environment they were written for! I also get a really cool fight scene at the end with Esmerelda and who doesn’t love a good sword fight?

Are there any other famous characters you would love to play in the future? A difficult question! There are so many things I would love to have a stab at. In terms of stage I’ve always wanted to play De Flores in The Changeling. He’s another really complex role and has a very dark side to him, but it’s trying to find the ALL of  the different elements of a character that is the fun part! I also love acting for camera and would love to be a part of something as epic as Game Of Thrones… or a Marvel movie! 

By Emma Clarendon

The Hunchback of Notre Dame will play at St Paul’s church from the 1st August until the 1st September.

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