Home / Musical / Jekyll and Hyde – Union Theatre, London

Jekyll and Hyde – Union Theatre, London

Book and Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse

Music: Frank Wildhorn

Director: Luke Fredericks

Reviewer: Lucy Thackray


It’s fitting that Morphic Graffiti’s Jekyll and Hyde opens in a mental asylum, because this show’s schizophrenia doesn’t stop with its protagonist – the whole production is a frenzied struggle between edgy, raw moments and sluggish, sentimental ones. Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wilhorn’s material seems largely to blame; most of the cast are faultless in their energy and passion, but it is hard to get lost in the story. Quickly breaking one of the cardinal sins (I think) of the modern musical, Dr Jekyll is permitted to sing – at length – about his deepest hopes and fears before the audience have a chance to see any of his character in dialogue. As the music and lyrics in this show are at best romantic and at worst downright nonsensical, this does not give Jekyll a great start. The most notable thing about Jekyll and Hyde is how many of the songs you’ll recognise (This is the Moment, Someone Like You, A New Life) but may have had no idea from their broadly sentimental lyrics that they belonged to this story.

Too many neurotic, repetitive sung monologues were not the fault of Tim Rogers, however, who handled the Jekyll/Hyde character(s) with determination and full-throttle vocals. A practical note: if you’re sitting on the side of the audience nearest the band you may struggle to catch some of the lower or quieter sung lines. But as the women grappling for his affection, Joanna Strand and Madalena Alberto cut beautifully through the band’s glorious accompaniment, providing a couple of goosebump-inducing moments in the score. Alberto in particular has that certain star quality and brings the most truth to this material.

Like Jekyll’s behaviour, this score and book are wildly inconsistent. Scenes where misunderstood lady of the night Lucy (Alberto) sings of her vices, her hopes and her lust sparkle with potential, but a glut of extra characters and far too many ‘inner struggle’ songs for Jekyll sadly drag this magic down. The ensemble are delightfully macabre, muttering about murder and deception in some enjoyable group numbers (which regrettably sounded a bit ‘poor man’s Sweeney Todd’). Some excellent musical staging by Adam Murray – and use of video, designed by Ben Walden – is let down by several wobbly scenery moments, not to mention one – perhaps intentional – instance of Acorn Antiques-style acting, one slice of French Fancy-based choreography and one inexplicable breast projection.

What saves this production are the risks taken when it comes to the violence and grubbiness of the plot – Hyde’s rampages are some of the best moments of the action – and the vocal skill of this cast (and musical director Dean Austin in utilising it). Although there is a heavy presence of a brassy female sound, presumably to suit the prostitutes portrayed, the ensemble songs are sharp, balanced and confidently delivered. The audience is treated to an uncommonly pure and romantic sound courtesy of Joanna Strand, and a grittier, heart-wrenching vocal performance from Madalena Alberto; their duet In His Eyes is sure to send a tingle down even the most baffled audience member. The moment just after this number, when the charismatic Spider (John McLarnon) warned of the dangers to come, I got a glimpse of the very best of this show – the hissing, pulsing sex and darkness of it, too often marred by schmaltz. Another annoyance was the transfer of this quintessential Victorian novella to present-day London; it made Jekyll’s plans to ‘separate the good and evil in man’ even more cuckoo (why was no one ripping off his NHS badge and demanding to see his qualifications?) while not visibly adding much at all, bar the clever inclusion of gossip magazines and smartphones in Murder, Murder. There was even the fleeting thought that perhaps it meant a saving on costumes.

An excellent supporting cast includes Mark Goldthorp as Jekyll’s lawyer John, and Antony Lawrence as his opponent Simon Stride (voices you’ll want to hear more from) as well as Mark Turnbull as Sir Carew and Andrea Miller as Lady Beaconsfield, but the domination of Jekyll’s character and thoughts make it hard to invest much in any of their characters. Morphic Graffiti and Luke Fredericks should be applauded for spotting something compelling in Jekyll and Hyde, but I can’t help but wish they’d been bold enough to take their version a step further, chopping out some of Jekyll’s blathering and amplifying the darkness around him. If confused plots and unsatisfactory endings get your goat, this may not be the show for you. But for some excellent vocal performances and a moment or two of raw passion in a great fringe venue, Jekyll and Hyde is definitely worth a visit.

Photo: Tigz Rice Studios

Runs until 16th June

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    Stunning performance all around and so clever in many ways. Go see it if you have a chance.

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    Morphic graffiti have brought the Victorian take up to date and given it a modern grittiness and relevance that brings the tale to life. 

    The tremendous acting and vocal talent of Tim Rodgers as Jekyll and his beautiful fiancé Joanna strand as Emma are a treat to watch on the grandest of west end stages, but to experience their prowess in this intimate fringe venue is profound and often overwhelming. Madelena Alberto does well as Lucy, if go for the raw, shouted musical theatre style, the edgy belt can be emotive but was often uncomfortably out of tune. The ensemble includes some of the best talent in the industry. It is remarkable that here we have artists of this calibre working on a ‘profit share’ really for the sake of and pursuit of their art. This is a treat not to be missed. 

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    I was surprised by this main review. How can one see (imagine?) so many faults in such a mind-blowing production?

    To stage this well-known musical in such a tiny theatre is a courageous thing to start with. And how superbly they put it together! I loved every minute of it.

    The stage design was clever – the sliding doors for a quick scene change, and a quater-revolve for Lucy’s bedroom. The use of mobile phones and mirrors are all effective.

    By moving the time forward to the present, the director made the sotry evern scarier than BW or UK tour productions – the guy next to you in the tube can be a Mr. Hyde.

    Tim Rogers’ acting was amazing. His passion and commitment kept me transfixed throught the play. Also the 2 leading ladies were perfect. The rest of the cast are of very high standards too. I especially liked John and Emma’s father.

    Don’t miss it.

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    Thanks for your thoughts SH, shared by many who are raving about this production.

    I assure you I didn’t ‘imagine’ any of the flaws expressed above (this should be reasonably clear from the explanation I included for my confusion at some of the decisions taken). As a reviewer you have to go with your gut to some extent, and I was not absorbed by this telling of J&H. I was constantly thinking, ‘Why is this happening in what is ostensibly modern day?’ ‘Whose idea was that wobbly sliding door at the back?’ and ‘Whose timing is being shown up by the choreographed passing of french fancies from plate to plate?’ These and other questions raced through my head, but never any soul-deep pangs for it to work out one way or another for Jekyll. This is usually a sign of clunkiness, when production decisions are more evident than the story itself.

    As for bringing it up to date, I disagree that it upped the fear factor. It might have worked as a’metaphorical’ Jekyll and Hyde issue – American Psycho style – but it was clearly expressed that this real doctor was actually trying to separate the good and evil in man, starting with himself, something that sounded hilarious in the naturalistic 21st century setting. I’d agree that the choice of venue was courageous – but creative courage doesn’t neccessarily equal quality.

    Thank you for reading and engaging in a bit of debate, we really do enjoy that here at TPR. I just thought I’d express that no reviewer here is trying to see or imagine any flaws in a show. We always go wanting it to be fabulous, or we wouldn’t devote the time to it.