How one woman dressed the entire cast of the Hunchback of Notre Dame - the biggest show to hit a Scarborough stage in decades

Retired teacher Betty Melbourne’s role as costume designer and maker has been a gargantuan challenge – especially as it is her debut in the backstage role

By Sue Wilkinson
Thursday, 12th May 2022, 9:25 am
Updated Thursday, 12th May 2022, 9:30 am
Betty Melbourne with costumes for Esmeralda and Quasimodo for the Scarborough Theatre Company production of the Hunchback of Notre Dame
Betty Melbourne with costumes for Esmeralda and Quasimodo for the Scarborough Theatre Company production of the Hunchback of Notre Dame

She has designed and made costumes for the more than 35 cast members of The Hunchback of Notre Dame – the first full production for Scarborough Theatre Company – and one of the biggest shows seen in the town for decades.

Since January she has ‘dressed’ the 21 actors and 16 choristers bringing the musical, based on the Disney film and Victor Hugo’s novel, to life.

Betty has also cut, stitched, sliced, hemmed, studded, corseted and sewn on a budget.

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Director of the Hunchback of Notre Dame Alex Weatherhill with wardrobe mistress, costume designer and maker Betty Melbourne

The majority of the material was found in two trunks found in the company’s costume store in West Street, Scarborough.

“The chests were full of material that had been donated over the past 50 years,” said director of the show and founder of the company Alex Weatherhill.

He set ‘the look’ for Hunchback – the story of Quasimodo, the keeper of the bells of the cathedral, who falls in love with the beautiful Esmeralda.

“In the original production, it starts with everybody dressed as monks and then they take off their robes and become the characters,” said Alex.

“I wanted to change that and make this whole thing about an experience for the audience from the moment they walk in.

“One of the major sets of people in it is the Romany community. I wanted to tell it from their perspective and travelling, storytellers. So they set off in Romany gear.

“I also thought how brilliant it would be if we could use that material to create a make-d0-and-mend travelling-theatremakers’ vibe,” he said

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Rehearsals are under way for epic first production - The Hunchback of Notre Dame...

For Betty, it was being like a kid lest lose in a sweet shop. “I got all this material home, laid it out, sliced it up and sewed it back together, I had a whale of a time,” she said.

Betty, who moved from Derbyshire to Bridlington three years ago, met Alex when she joined Coastal Voices, the Bridlington-based choir he directs.

“I cannot do without a choir,” she said. Betty had made patchwork bags Alex admired who then approached her to make costumes for a Sister Act number.

“I made costumes for my daughters when they were at dance school but I have never done anything on this scale,” she said.

For Hunchback she put together a ‘little black book’ which has the names, photographs measurements and costume details of each member of the cast.

She has created swirly skirts, floaty scarves, corsetted tops, regal robes and patchwork waistcoats.

One of the noble’s coats is made from a thrown-away set of curtains, Esmeralda has a circular skirt and Betty made a hoodie for Quasimodo.

A cheese grater and bleach were applied to his waistcoat to make it look more distressed.

Other cast members have joined in – an equivalent of a company sewing bee.

Betty designed and made a choir cape – then assembled packs including material, patterns and instructions to hand out to members of the cast.

Alison Robertshaw knitted chain mail from silver wool and then also put together packs to hand.

Rehearsals for the Hunchback of Notre Dame have been taking place under Alex’s direction at Scarborough College.

It is the story of Quasimodo, the deformed, disfigured anddeaf bell ringer at the Parisien Notre Dame cathedral, who falls in love with the beautiful gipsy Esmeralda.

The songs in the Disney score include A Guy Like You, Out There, Topsy Turvy and Someday.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is on at the QueenStreet Methodist Central Hall from Wednesday May 18 to Saturday May 21. Tickets: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/