Saturday 2nd June 2012, evening
During our extensive(!) research for this review, we noted that whilst Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella ‘The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ has inspired a vast number of adaptations, none of the best-known ones have stayed faithful to the original. This was never more apparent than in Frank Wildhorn’s musical version, which, not content with portraying Stevenson’s horrific tale of transformation and the eternal battle between good and evil, seems to want to turn the story into ‘Dr Jekyll and Jack the Ripper’. Described on the official website as a ‘rousing gothic musical’ in which ‘murder and chaos run rampant in this engaging thriller’, we find the words ‘lily’ and ‘gilding’ springing to mind. And the trailer for morphic graffiti’s new version continues the theme.
Having heard some of the music (well, mostly ‘This is the Moment’), we couldn’t miss this opportunity to slope off to the Union Theatre in Southwark (described by Mark Shenton as ‘fast becoming the National Theatre of fringe’) for a fully staged version. Given the size of the cast compared to the size of the theatre (we calculate an audience to cast ratio of less than three to one), we have to give them ten out of ten for ambition. In many ways, Luke Fredericks uses the space creatively to great effect, and we particularly enjoyed the surround-sound chorus with members of the cast circling the auditorium. A lot of thought had clearly gone into the use of the space, with a cleverly designed set and well-choreographed set pieces, as well as some judicious use of projections. Our only gripe was that, sitting at the back on a raised platform, we were unable to see the bottom third of the action, a slight disadvantage when it came to various characters kneeling, lying or slumping on the floor.
In this production, the Victorian setting has been brought right up to date. However, setting a morality tale in modern times does bring its own problems, as we have previously explored in our review of OperaupClose’s Don Giovanni. Here, Jekyll is an ambitious Doctor who is trying to convince an NHS hospital trust to allow him to experiment on their mental patients. Not only has modern understanding of mental illness moved on somewhat, but it is much harder to show truly shocking acts of evil in a modern setting. It is too easy for banality to set in – never more than in the sight of Jekyll putting on a hoodie for his night-time rampages.
Tim Rogers clearly likes a challenge and he has some momentous moments playing Jekyll/Hyde; the low-key start to the delivery of ‘This is the moment’ works very well, although it is as Hyde that he reaches his high-points, with a powerful vocal delivery. The intention was clearly to give a naturalistic portrayal, but without the distancing effect of the Victorian code of morals, this seems an impossible task, and ultimately we missed the sense of inner conflict of the character(s), surely a fairly essential part of this story.
As Lucy Harris, Madalena Alberto brings an assured dancing and singing ability, admirably showcased in the number ‘Bring on the Men’, and she is passionate as the ill-fated prostitute, although she seems a bit too street-wise to become such an easy victim. Vocally, we would have to say our favourite was Joanna Strand as Jekyll’s fiance Emma Carew, whose clear and melodious voice matches her dignity as the would-be wife who desperately wanted to go on Jekyll’s journey with him but is left behind (of course she might not have been so keen if she’d known where he was going). The cast worked well together, supported by a small band delivering an impressive sound. The production was fast-paced and energetic, but this seemed to be at the expense of clear story-telling. Like Emma, we are left behind, unable to experience the true horror of Jekyll’s predicament.