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.
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.