The Bad Hersfeld Festival started its 71st season with the play «Notre Dame». The staging skilfully holds up a mirror to society.

What is love? How do I react when someone is marginalized, in need, needs my help? Do I stand by him or do I scoff and rush with the crowd, turn away, get on with my easy life?

This year’s opening piece “Notre Dame” at the Bad Hersfeld Festival raises major questions about being human at a time when solidarity and social cohesion are more necessary than ever. At the premiere on Friday evening there was a lot of applause for the production by director Joern Hinkel and the ensemble around “Tatort” star Richy Müller and Anouschka Renzi, and cheers were also mixed in with the applause.

Insights into the interior of the figures

Together with the dramaturge Tilman Raabke, Hinkel translated Victor Hugo’s classic novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” in the truest sense of the word into the present day. In their stage version, thanks to the ingenious interplay of narrative and acting, the original – a dazzling portrait of Renaissance morals with excessive descriptions of the conditions in Paris at the end of the 15th century – is always validated. In order to give the audience an insight into the inner world, the actors speak their thoughts, wishes and intentions out loud to the audience, only to immediately switch back to action on stage. This creates the impression of reading this work of world literature and experiencing it on stage as a play at the same time.

Anyone who thinks of “Notre Dame” in particular as the 1956 film with Gina Lollobrigida as Esmeralda and Anthony Quinn as Hunchback Quasimodo, which was staged as a bombastic love story, will get a new, much deeper look at Hugo’s complex work thanks to the Bad Hersfeld version. The dance of the beautiful Esmeralda, played by Cathrine Sophie Dumont in a girlishly graceful and self-confident manner, sets in motion a spiral of love, jealousy, hate and even murder. The dark, sometimes diabolical Archdeacon Claude Frollo pulls the strings in the background. Richy Müller portrays him in all his inner conflict between love and possessiveness, vocation and desperate desire.

Robert Nickisch shines as Quasimodo

Anouschka Renzi, who took on four roles in the play, is particularly impressive as madam Madame Falouradel. Laconically and coquettishly, sometimes flippantly, with wit, charm and great stage presence, she tells the audience about the events and is then part of the action again, for example when she witnesses the bloody deed on the vain captain Phoebus (Oliver Urbanski) before the judge. describes – which later turns out not to be fatal.

The audience is also enthusiastic about the performance of Robert Nickisch as the disabled bell ringer Quasimodo, a battered soul, laughed at and rejected by society, and precisely for this reason the one who stands by Esmeralda with selfless love and wants to protect her. With just a few sentences and a lot of body language, Nickisch draws this character, who is pure in heart and makes it clear what is important: “You’re lucky, you’re loved,” he calls out to Phoebus.

The art of acting is underlined by 3D special effects, which bring the backdrop of the Parisian Notre-Dame Cathedral into the ruins of the monastery. With the so-called mapping, Maximilian Pfisterer and Sheidan Zeinalov let three-dimensional demons grow out of the masonry, flames lick the nave of the church and make the vibrations tangible when the people break open the gates of the cathedral and want to storm them. Jens Kilian developed mobile elements for the stage design, which become houses, a brothel, the interior of the cathedral, the prison and are moved by the actors themselves. Daniela Selig is responsible for the costumes – a successful mixture of borrowings from history with some caricature-like exaggeration and modern simplicity.

The production is very well received by the audience – although the shadow of the war in Ukraine hangs over the evening at the theatre. But especially in these times, art and culture, dealing with the values ​​of peace, freedom, democracy and human dignity and with one’s own actions are important, the speakers at the ceremony agreed. Victor Hugo holds up a mirror to society, but everyone has to find their own answers, says Artistic Director Hinkel.