Two sides to every story, two sides of a coin and for Dr Jekyll two personalities residing in one body. The man of research and science and the inner beast driven by lust, fury and passion.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella is surprising brief, a mere collection of short stories, but it has provided the inspiration for numerous stage and screen adaptations over the years. From gothic monochrome silent movies, to all singing and dancing musical adaptations, this story of a man divided has resonated throughout the years.
Chris Bond’s latest adaptation of the classic frames the piece as a Victorian music hall melodrama, complete a chairman warning the audience of the horrors they are about to witness.
It is an evocative setting; a guilt proscenium arch sits centre stage while musicians sit stage right in the midst of a good old fashioned traditional East End sing-along. Songs and sketches provide an authentic music hall experience with knowing parodies of Burlington Bertie, Edgar Allan Poe and G&S on the bill alongside comedy and even a ventriloquist.
All frame and comment on the central story of Jekyll himself and his attempts to control his alter ego Edward Hyde.
As you would expect from the Hornchurch resident company music plays a central role here; providing not only commentary on the unfolding drama, but also some light comedy relief.
Fitting the duality of the subject matter the production, while effectively staged, never fully seems sure of what it is trying to be. As a gothic horror it seems somewhat underplayed and strangely devoid of real shock; as a comedy it perhaps takes itself a little too seriously.
Some of this confusion is down to Matt Devitt’s direction which chooses to play much of Jekyll and Hyde’s conflicts at the back of the stage, distancing any real audience connection. While the exuberance of the music hall provides plenty of laughs it also looses some of the darkness essential to show the inner conflict tearing the man apart.
There are however some delightful performances from the company of actor musicians. Simon Jessop’s Chairman holds the evening’s proceedings together with a nicely sardonic air, instilling a sense of foreboding into the audience and yet providing enough gallows humour to keep the evening light. There is a nicely dark and brooding performance from Tom Jude as Dr Henry Jekyll, portraying the duality of the role well, despite the restrictions of the production.
Carol Sloman’s Burlington Bertie-esque toff gives a nice link to current distrust of bankers, while her musical direction adds period charm mixed with plenty of in jokes around music hall repertoire. From doctor’s study to Victorian tavern, Norman Coates adaptable set transforms into a multitude of locations.
Which brings us full circle to the indecisiveness of the piece. As a music hall variety it works well, providing plenty of laughs and musical interludes along the way. As a comedy thriller it works less successfully – the comedy is there certainly, but at the expense of any real chill. Despite the Chairman’s warnings of dark dastardly deeds that may be unsuitable for the feint hearted, it proves to be an oddly anaemic evening.
Review originally written for The Public Reviews