Dance: Acting on a hunchback

Advertise a ballet called Elective Affinities or Being and Nothingness and advance box office will tend to be a bit sluggish; but stick up posters for, say, Gone With the Wind, and the ballet-going public will bite your hand off. Derek Deane, no stranger to the art of crowd-pleasing, found that the words "Alice" and "Wonderland" had merely to be printed in the leaflets for the phones to start ringing off the hook. Now, Christopher Gable has devised an equally successful formula for Northern Ballet Theatre.

We've had A Christmas Carol, we've had Dracula and now we've got The Hunchback of Notre Dame. A cynic might imagine that the decision to present Hugo's story was not unrelated to the Walt Disney production of the same name. But, in fact, Quasimodo and Esmeralda were tripping the light fantastic during Hugo's lifetime in 1844 when Jules Perrot created the ballet Esmeralda for the romantic legend Fanny Elssler. Marius Petipa later had a crack at it at the Maryinsky in St Petersburg, where the role of the pretty gypsy was often danced by Matthilde Kshessinska, Nicholas II's mistress, who kept her own string of pet goats for use in the ballet - Imperial ballerinas were nothing if not thorough.

Northern Ballet have sacrificed the goat but otherwise the story adheres pretty closely to Hugo's original and runs to a mind-boggling 20 scenes between Esmeralda, her four admirers and the good citizens of Paris. Anyone who likes to know what they're looking at would be well advised to skim through the book before they go. Michael Pink has done his best to craft a distinctive dance idiom for each character, but you may find yourself losing the thread - particularly as the rivals Phoebus and Gringoire seem to share a hairdresser.

The ballet looks good thanks to the usual class act by Lez Brotherston, who has designed the sets and costumes. Buttresses line the sides of the stage and various gothic gantries cross the back of it. The clothes run the gamut from dirty old sack with a hole in it (Quasimodo) to picture- book middle ages (for Phoebus's ladyfriend Fleur). The period detail is deliberately impressionistic and, like Ralph Koltai's infamous designs for the RSC in the late 1970s and Jasper Conran's for Edward II, Brotherston has proved unable to resist the rough, anachronistic kiss of black leather. It's a strange Archdeacon who rapes a girl while wearing a maxi black leather trenchcoat but then Hugo's Frollo is a very strange archdeacon.

Congress Theatre, Eastbourne (01323 412000) 10-14 Mar

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