The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, Rowntree Players, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm and 2pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or at UNLIKE the seismic mess of a year all around it, everything fell into place for the Rowntree Players, having already made a most unconventional choice of pantomime for 2016 in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.

First the aftershocks of Brexit could aid the French farce; next the rise of Donald Trump provided a ready-made intolerant villain to lampoon, and what better for a story set in a cathedral bell tower than the shenanigans with the York Minster bellringers this autumn.

On top of that, the Players panto producers reversed the worst decision they had ever made. Glory be, the band is back, after the barren years when the musical director was reduced to sticking his head through a hole in the stage floor, as if he were in a Samuel Beckett play, keeping the beat as the cast performed to a recorded soundtrack.

What's more, the MD in the pit is Ben Papworth, the hotshot talent in demand from so many York companies right now, who once more leads his forces brilliantly, his arrangements playful and exuberant, his players in great form on guitar, bass, trumpet, woodwind, keys and percussion.

Penned by director Howard Ella and villain Andy Welch, this new spin on Victor Hugo's story finds Welch's divisive Governor LeTrump issuing his five-stage plan from LeTrump Tower to rid gay Paris of the Court of Miracles and the Cirque de Sorry, banning fun and singing and dancing and banishing all children. But not before he has done a pastiche of a Chicago musical number, smartly choreographed by Ami Carter, whose ensemble work is particularly impressive.

Graham Smith's daft psychic-medium dame, Celia Fate, and his even dafter son, Gemma McDonald's ginger-nutted clown Summer Fate, lead the slapstick in a cheeky, chaotic double act, with a noticeable rise in saucy double entendres.

Meanwhile, Marie-Louise Surgenor's Captain Phoebus excels both in her blossoming relationship with Celia's daughter, Sara Howlett's circus girl Esmerelda, and in the comic to and fro with the show's second double act, heavily bearded company newcomers Steve Carter and Simon Alnaimi's guards, Captain Obvieux and Constable Deja-Vu. The script plays delightfully on the names' comedic possibilities and Carter and Almaini are splendid additions to the Players' panto family.

Meg Badrick's brave, defiant Quasimodo, Daisy Blue Ella's elegant Ringmaster and Geoff Walker and Lisa Walker's lugubrious French-accented statues, Renoir and Suzette all add to the enjoyment of a show full of fast-fizzing farce, political comment, lively song and dance, splendid costumes by Leni Ella and a brilliant, intricate second-half slapstick setpiece.

How lovely too to see the JoRo theatre packed with all ages on a Sunday afternoon: testament to the joyous impact this community pantomime continues to have in York. Viva la France in 2016 pantoland, Brexit or no Brexit.

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, Rowntree Players, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm and 2pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or at

Did you know?

Dress Circle of York supplied costumes for The Hunchback Of Notre Dame: one of 40 winter shows for which Stephen Outhwaite's theatrical costume hire company has provided this service.