REVIEW Jekyll & Hyde The Musical

08
November
2019

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REVIEW Jekyll & Hyde The Musical

Winchester Musical and Opera Society

Theatre Royal Winchester 7th November 2019

Reviewed By: David Cradduck
Images: Peter Sillick

Robert Louis Stevenson has a lot to answer for: not only did he have wooden teeth, invent the sleeping bag and get arrested for throwing snowballs, but as well as ‘Treasure Island’ he also penned ‘The Strange Tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, a dark tale whose title has become, like Marmite, an adjective.

Overhear “he’s a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character” and you’ll know exactly what they mean – that this person has two, polarised, sides to his character.

One of them good, upright and decent – the sort of chap you’d be happy to have as a son in law in fact.

The other is dark, sinister, absolutely evil and the complete nemesis of his counterpart but living in the same, tortured body.

Jekyll

It’s a tale that has spawned many characters such as ‘The Incredible Hulk’ and even Jerry Lewis’s ‘The Nutty Professor’.

Indeed, fables containing mythical werewolves and vampires have parallels with this theme, along with more scientific explanations like schizophrenia.

There can be few audience members who are unfamiliar with the general background to the story. For many it raises concerns regarding mental illness in the light of modern, enlightened times. Despite it being a work of fiction it is (allegedly) inspired by a nightmare the author experienced.

Stevenson’s original tale contained no female roles to speak of, and certainly no heroines. Nor, of course, was it set to music, even though he was an accomplished musician as well as an author.

But since the late 19th Century when it was written and set, there have been over 120 adaptations of the original novel.

The musical version with music by Frank Wildgorn, Steve Cuden and Leslie Bricusse, first appeared on stage in the early 1990s since when it has undergone many subtle changes. Stevenson would probably approve of this adaptation, reasonably faithful as it is to his original but with an updated, musical twist.

The plot is simple enough: good versus evil, set against the backdrop of Victorian England at a time when Jack The Ripper wasn’t just a legend but actually kept people from venturing far at night.

The music, however, is far from simple – even though it is melodic (but not in a foot tapping way).

Operatic and mesmeric chord and tempo changes add to the dark, sinister mood throughout and, my goodness, there are some high notes to hit for some of the cast. The musical and vocal challenges are daunting but well met by the whole cast and ten piece orchestra led by Musical Director Tim Lutton.

So I would venture to say that this was neither an easy nor an obvious choice of production for WMOS and debut director Andrew Hodgson; but then having been enthralled by their previous offerings, the most recent being the amazing ‘Made in Dagenham’ I am not surprised. This group obviously enjoys rising to the challenges other companies shy away from.

Jekyll

Looking to the talented cast – who excel, whether in principal or supporting roles – there are no weak links, just enthusiasm, superb acting, singing and movement, well choreographed by Jess Eades.

The attention to detail in the chorus numbers is difficult to capture as one’s eyes dart from stage left to right, taking in the subtle and well-rehearsed business that makes situations real and which keeps the actors in character.

One chorus number, ‘Murder, Murder’, still resonates with me as I write this; such was the power of the ensemble’s singing and stage presence.

Matt McGrath as both the tortured Dr Jekyll and the horrible Edward Hyde, is exceptional in his characterisation; two very different voices and changes in appearance (helped by his sometimes unruly mop of hair) differentiate the two characters and even in his final solo when the alter egos are mentally pulling him apart there is no doubting who is Jekyll and who is Hyde. McGrath nails it, both in acting terms and in his singing – he must surely go to bed exhausted after every performance.

Jekyll

Other stand-out performances (if one really must choose, because this ensemble is so good) are provided by the two female leads. Lisa Axworthy as Henry Jekyll’s sweet, long suffering fiancée Emma Carew contrasts nicely with Lucy Harris, the ‘lady of the night’, played with conviction and warmth by Molly Moffit. Their harmonic duet ‘In His Eyes’ in the second act is both haunting and touching – these actresses have voices you could listen to all night.

There are many dramatic scenes, yes, many of them anticipated (as with all good Victorian melodrama) but nonetheless some come as a bit of a shock to the system when they do arrive. No spoilers, but this is the 19th century equivalent of the TV show you might hide behind the sofa for when the nasty bits happen.

Overall, I think you could clip ten minutes off the first half which takes a while to get going (I found myself willing Jekyll to drink that potion just to see what would happen) and notwithstanding a couple of slightly odd cues at tonight’s performance, the lighting is superbly moody.

Lighting and Sound Designer Tony Lawther must have come up with every lighting plot possible – I’m surprised TRW didn’t run short of bulbs, circuits, smoke or imagination when it came to creating the kind of atmosphere to compliment and enhance Liz Petley-Jones’ inspiring, towering set design and fabulous costumes by Jo Barker and Tash Francis.

There are still a few tickets left for the remaining performances so I strongly urge you to go and support this talented local theatre company whilst you can.

‘Jekyll and Hyde’ runs until Saturday www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk/whats-on/jekyll-hyde-musical and WMOS also have a full programme coming up for the next year, including Alan Ayckbourn’s brilliant‘Chorus of Disapproval’ in November 2020. More information at https://www.wmos.org.uk/future-productions or though their social media channels.