Review – The Tempest, National Youth Theatre/Made in Northampton Co-Production, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 29th June 2016

The TempestThere are comedies, and then again, there are comedies. The Tempest, I have always found, although a “comedy”, isn’t very funny. I’ve seen it a few times, read it, studied it, but whenever it looms on my horizon again I think to myself – oh yes. That play I don’t really get at all. Still, you never stop learning, so I’m always willing to give it another stab.

Ferdinand and MirandaA few weeks ago I remember telling someone there’s no point being a Shakespeare purist because you can always play them “straight” any time and they’ll still work. No modern production of a Shakespeare play is ever going to destroy the original; and the current interest in shaking up Shakey gives you a chance on a new perspective, uncovering some deeper themes, emphasising the plays’ relevance for today. And I stand by that. However, I have to admit that as I went into the interval of this brand new production of The Tempest, I found my tolerance for the shake-up was being severely tested. Not that I wasn’t enjoying it – far from it – but Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s version is such a long way from the original, that it’s less of an adaptation and more of a serving suggestion. I was talking to another chap at the urinals during the interval (as you do, sometimes) and he said, “well, it may be the Tempest, but it’s not how I remember it”. I made understanding and conciliatory noises. “Mind you, that was sixty years ago” he added.

Miranda and CalibanAnd there’s the rub. In these tense times where the younger generation are accusing the old ‘uns of skewing the referendum result, there may be considerable differences between what the young and old want to see in the theatre. This definitely is a young person’s show, being a co-production between the National Youth Theatre and local performers with an association with the University of Northampton’s drama department and others. As we discovered in the Q&A session after the show (which Mrs Chrisparkle reluctantly stayed for and ended up thoroughly enjoying) there was a considerable degree of input from the cast in creating the adaptation, and it was constantly changing, even during previews, as they were trying to make it as relevant as possible to today’s situation. And I realised that, as I have seen more traditional productions of this play before which have always baffled me, this time, with liberties as long as your arm being taken, the play made much more sense. It’s a Child is Father to the Man moment. Wordsworth would have been so proud.

Simona and ArielThis adaptation sees much changing of relationships and sex. Male Prospero, Sebastian, Gonzalo and Stephano become female Prosper, Simona, Greta and Stephanie. Antonio becomes Anton; Prosper and Miranda are sisters (instead of father/daughter); Alonso and Ferdinand are brothers (instead of father/son). And there are six Ariels. Yes, six. Not so that Prosper can tune into Radio Luxembourg (and yes I know that ages me) but something obscure to do with Sycorax’s cruel treatment of the little sprite before the show starts. Actually the six Ariels work incredibly well. Not just because they can act as stage clearer-uppers, but because they can give the role more diversity and characterisation. There’s cheeky Ariel and sombre Ariel, happy Ariel and mysterious Ariel, and so on. It also enhances the sense of magic and sorcery that permeates the entire play. Everyone, whether spirit or not, is at Prosper’s beck and call – she completely rules the roost. This production highlights quite how manipulative the character is; it also brings forward Miranda’s resourcefulness – in this production she is able to subdue Caliban by physical strength and that’s no mean feat. Anton and Simona get a sexual frisson when planning to overthrow Alonso and Greta and take advantage of their victims’ temporary sleepiness to nip off stage for a quickie – very nicely done. I don’t suppose that ever happened with Antonio and Sebastian; but who knows?

Prosper and ArielVisually the production has tremendous impact. The massive tempest with which the play opens (or in this case, nearly opens, as it is dovetailed into scene two) is seen as a contained but nevertheless brutally wet affair, on the other side of the curtains of Prosper and Miranda’s bedroom. I have read other reports that say it’s visually stunning but you can’t hear a word that the cast are shouting to each other out there on that tossed boat. That is indeed true; fortunately, our performance was “audio described” which I personally always find extremely helpful – although it also makes it very clear when the cast go wrong and miss a chunk out of a scene (no names, no packdrill). The long and seemingly narrow set leading to a secret garden at the back worked extremely well; as did the three doors in a row that fell into place plunging us into instant imprisonment. The lighting too, is extraordinarily good, nowhere more so than in the chilling scene where Ariel (in his various guises) gets to vengeful grip with Alonso, Anton and Simona, spotlighting their individual tortures with gruesome starkness.

StephanieBringing this all to life is a fantastic young cast who work together as a brilliant ensemble but who also all have their individual moments to shine. Dominating proceedings is Sophie Walter as Prosper, manipulating all and sundry with a flick of her pencil; she has a fine air of authority and dignity which is perfect for the part and tellingly summons up all the character’s self-obsessed heroism. Beth Markey gives a great performance as her junior sidekick Miranda, apparently placid and obedient in love and respect, but becoming tough as old boots when dealing with Caliban. Charlie Clee is perfect casting for expressing Alonso’s outwardly noble demeanour mixed with his sense of anxiety and innate cowardice; Joe Law gives us a very wise and physically comic Trinculo and there’s a hilarious presentation of Stephanie by Sophie Guiver, who absolutely nails the drunk act as well as her besotted relationship with Caliban. Jay Mailer gets all the wry humour out of the character of Ferdinand, and Gabriel Akamo uses his fantastic stage presence to give us an imposing but quite sensitive Caliban, who’s not as monstrous as Shakespeare would like us to think. And hats off to the mix-and-match Ariel actors, who present him as harpy, gimp, society diva and workhorse. Mrs C thought the shiny silver-grey dresses the female Ariels wore reminded her of bridesmaids from one of the more cash-stretched episodes of Don’t Tell The Bride. I couldn’t possibly comment.

AntonThis highly enjoyable adaptation takes Shakespeare’s text by the throat and thrashes it around like a Dobermann puppy. Very original, full of life and attack, making the most of what humour there is and emphasising its relevance for today. Congratulations on an excellent production – and thank you for finally making me understand the play!

Review – The Planets: An HD Odyssey, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 26th June 2016

The PlanetsMusic hath charms to soothe the savage breast. Mrs Chrisparkle’s and my combined breasts were feeling particularly savage after the slings and arrows of outrageous referendum results, so we were really looking forward to an evening in the company of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra who have so many times in the past coddled us, cushioned us, and sent us on our way home with a warm Ready-Brek glow. We also had friends up from Leatherhead joining us for the concert and we met Mr Smallmind there too, now such a permanent fixture at the R&D that an orchestra member asked his help in shifting his instrument up the cordoned-off Royal stairs post-concert.

Sometimes theatre or concert programming taps into the Zeitgeist and it wasn’t long before there were very few tickets left for this concert; and indeed it was a sell-out on the night. It was great to see so many families going out to enjoy this special space-themed selection of classical hits. The main attraction was to be the performance of Holst’s Planets Suite accompanied by a film created in collaboration with NASA and award-winning producer/director Duncan Copp, and featuring the latest high definition planetary images of NASA’s exploration of the solar system. I wondered to what extent the multimedia accompaniment would enhance or maybe diminish Holst’s commanding music. But more of that later…

Robert ZieglerOur conductor for the evening was Robert Ziegler. It was the first time we had seen Mr Ziegler on the podium. He comes out onto the stage, enthusiastic and with an air of kind-hearted wisdom, like a good-tempered History teacher, if one of those ever existed. With his jazzy shirt and black velour jacket, you sense he could be a man of many surprises. He certainly got the best out of the RPO, who gave us an evening of sparkle and chic, with really crisp playing and fantastic timing.

The first half was a fascinating mix of little classical jewels, all with an eye to the celestial. We started with the opening of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra – giving the concert the equivalent of a musical lift-off – and I’d forgotten what a thrilling little piece it is; for an overture-in-miniature, it sure packs a punch! This was followed by Strauss’s (different Strauss) Blue Danube Waltz; also known, in the programme, as On the Beautiful Blue Danube; I’m not sure if the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle’s lyrics to it “The Danube is blue, it’s blue, it’s blue, I tell you it’s blue, it’s blue, it’s blue…” are entirely pure Strauss. Anyway the orchestra played it with swaying delight, hitting that first phrase of the chorus with wonderful as slow as you dare characterisation. You could almost feel the fairground merry-go-round whipping up to speed as the waltz gained traction. Really enjoyable.

RPOAn interesting third item: Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, but not played on the organ, but as a full orchestral piece as arranged by Leopold Stokowski. It’s a composition I love; and what I most enjoyed about this performance was the way in which the orchestra played some of it slow and stately, and other parts quick and quirky. It really lent itself to this different arrangement. (But I do prefer it done on the organ!) Next was the Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th symphony; always moving, a strange mixture of the sombre and the triumphant. Again, beautifully played by the orchestra, that thick pizzicato tattoo that runs throughout the piece like a stick of rock creating a strong sense of unease and drama. It’s better when played in the context of the full symphony I feel, but nevertheless it was a super example of one of Classics’ Greatest Hits. Finally, we came much more up to date with the Main Theme to John Williams’ Star Wars: dynamic, exciting, irreverent; the violins could have been light-sabres and we could have become enmeshed in full intergalactic battle.

After the interval, we came back for the Main Event – The Planets. The orchestra took their places. Mr Ziegler returned to his podium. Unusually, the lights dimmed, like we were in a cinema, apart from the bright lamps illuminating the orchestra members’ music stands. And just as you thought Mr Z was about to cue in Mars… the movie started. NASA scientists giving their opinions on whether or not Holst characterised the planets correctly. OK…I’ll go with it, I thought to myself, but I hope they don’t push it… Eventually the movie announced Mars, The Bringer of War. This worked so, so well. Really fascinating and beautifully photographed footage of the red planet combined by an absolutely riveting performance of seven of the finest minutes in classical music. Not only a first class performance but absolute timing precision so that the footage on the screen changed at exactly the same instant as the first beat of the next bar in the music. A fantastic combination – I was pretty much gobsmacked.

Northampton Bach ChoirSadly, visually, for me at least, that was the most exciting footage by a long baton. The subsequent cinematographic accompaniments for each planet were attractive and nicely realised I guess, but as it went on, I felt like the visual effect created a laziness in one’s head; it served to limit one’s imagination and emotional response to each piece of music rather than enhancing it; and by the time we’d got to Jupiter – which has so many memories for me of my teenage years and all absolutely nothing to do with astronomy – I decided to shift my concentration from the screen to the musicians. Jupiter was performed with a freshness and vitality that I think you could simply describe as awesome. Whether the I Vow To Thee My Country section had an extra post-referendum resonance I could not tell; for me it had an interesting lack of sentimentality which I actually found quite refreshing.

Moving on; the words on the screen: Saturn The Bringer of Old Age created a few chuckles from around the auditorium as grandparents wrestled with cheeky grandchildren; and, no doubt about it, in the movie accompaniment – nice rings. Uranus always reminds me more of a sea shanty than a magician, so it was back to concentrating on the instruments for me. We ended with a stunningly eerie performance of Neptune, The Mystic; when the disembodied choral voices joined in, it was a moment of sheer dramatic magic. The programme promised us the Northampton Bach Choir, but they were nowhere to be seen, which caused a little post-show controversy amongst our party. Were the voices recorded? Or were the Northampton Bach Choir lurking backstage, as reticent to come forward as a politician to invoke Article 50?

PlanetsAn unusual structure for a classical concert but by and large it worked really well. Certainly the RPO were on top form and played some of Classic’s Greatest Hits with dynamism and éclat. Next up it’s the Last Night of the Derngate Proms next month – make sure you’re there!

Review – Jamie Raven Live, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 22nd June 2016

Jamie RavenI have a confession to make, gentle reader – it’s been three weeks since I last saw a live performance. I’m very sorry. It won’t happen again. To break my fast, I suggested to Mrs Chrisparkle that we might like to see Jamie Raven Live. Although, let’s face it, we wouldn’t want to see him dead. “Who’s he?” she asked. “I don’t actually know,” I replied, “but I believe he does magic.” Mrs C looked at me askance. She appreciates that I like magic but she can’t conceal her own sense of irritation at the genre. “Go on then…” she said, with all the enthusiasm of a vegan opening a leather factory.

Jamie Raven came to prominence – as he tells us early in the show – by coming second on Britain’s Got Talent to a three-legged dog. And people ask us why we don’t watch it? Anyway, within the first three minutes of last night’s show, anyone who didn’t know who Mr Raven was, had been fully informed, as we watched clips from his BGT appearance and the judges going wild about him. We know it was three minutes as a digital clock counted down to Mr R’s arrival on stage. “Well that’s one way of padding out three minutes of a show”, sighed Mrs C dubiously, already regretting her decision to give way on this one.

J RavenHowever, then on came Mr Raven and the rest of the show was…well…magic. After his first trick, Mrs C was staring at me incredulously with an I take it all back, this guy is brilliant look. The evening is a showcase of a terrific blend of large-scale tricks (illusions? Experiences? Stunts?) that fill the entire stage and also close-up sleight of hand with individual members of the audience that we can all see by use of a close hand-held cam. He performed some tricks with the couple directly to our right so we were able to observe very close up at first hand – and he completely baffled us. The whole show is just under two hours of surprise after shock after how did he do that. Actually, there was one trick that we felt we might have guessed how he did it – maybe… slightly… but we’d have to watch it again to confirm. And then we’d probably be wrong anyway.

There were two aspects to his act that really impressed us as being “different”. Most magicians I’ve seen (mainly on TV) are, to some extent, a bit of a smartarse (and I mean that kindly). The late Paul Daniels, for instance – brilliant magician – had a persona that was cocky and confident. My other current favourite magician, Pete Firman, tempers that big-headedness into a funny self-deprecation. Jamie Raven doesn’t bother with this at all. He is extremely respectful and polite, meeting all his victims/volunteers with “Hi, I’m Jamie, pleased to meet you” or “Hi, I’m Jamie, nice to see you”. He’s an entertainer who never feels the need to make any of his public who help him with the tricks feel remotely threatened or alarmed – in fact he dispenses several hugs with genuine sincerity – and I feel that’s a most refreshing change; all the gentlemanliness of David Nixon but with 21st century bite.

JRThe other impressive thing (apart from his brilliant magic) – and what made him particularly stand out for Mrs C – was how modern and accessible the act felt. When he gave us his version of putting someone in a box and then piercing it with endless swords, only for them to emerge at the end completely unharmed, he didn’t use a glamorous Debbie McGee-type assistant (nothing against her of course) but one of his ordinary backstage guys in a black t-shirt who did it straightforwardly as part of his job and without any posing at all. Another of his tricks was to shake one can of Coca Cola so that it would explode if you opened it and then hide it amongst several others as a game of Explosive Coke Roulette. No glamorous champagne effects – just every day and realistic props. Definitely magic for today’s era.

I could tell you all the tricks he did but I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise for you if you’re going to see the show. Suffice to say, they stunned us all into amazed appreciation. But I have a couple of observations. Now, I don’t know how magic works (and I kinda like it that way). Somehow, if a magician does magic, it works and it’s magic (obviously). If I tried to do magic, it would fail because I don’t know how to do the trick. It’s black or white – you can or you can’t. So what I really don’t understand is, how can a magician get a trick nearly right? For that’s what happened with one of Mr R’s items last night. Basically it’s a routine that takes the concept of coincidence, but where he shows over a course of coincidences how actually unlikely a coincidental outcome is (if that makes sense). Five members of the public, wearing five badges, on five chairs, with five different colour pens colouring in five different parts of a drawing. The odds on Mr R predicting the outcome are not in four, five or six figures but about fourteen figures if I remember rightly. But one small part of the prediction was wrong; one aspect of the coincidence didn’t arise. How can that be? Either it works or it doesn’t, right? This isn’t a criticism of Mr R – although you felt he was annoyed with himself for not getting it entirely right – but to me it’s absolutely fascinating; maybe magic isn’t black or white after all.

Jamie RAnd another thing. There’s always that suggestion that there might be plants in the audience. I think that feeling has probably died out over recent years but I remember my dad was always convinced that was how magic took place – and in other areas of entertainment, you only have to look at One Man Two Guvnors, for example, to realise the possibilities are endless. For his final trick, Mr R had already identified in advance one card from a new pack that members of the audience would randomly choose. To select three members of the audience, he threw a ball blindly into the crowd and the first person to catch it had to to stand up and say whether or not they wanted it to be a red card or a black card. As he was introducing this trick, I just knew he was going to throw it at me. I was in Row F of the stalls, close enough to be visible from stage – maybe – but not close enough to be easily involved in the show. But I sensed he caught my eye. I knew I was going to catch that ball. I even swapped my plastic glass of Shiraz from my right hand to my left in expectation of a catch. “I’m going to throw the ball in this general area of the audience” he said, as he waved in my general direction. Then he turned around and lobbed it over his head. Sure enough, it landed in my lap. I stood up. “What colour suit would you like to choose” he asked me. I told him. (I won’t say it here, because I don’t want to influence any future shows!) But sure enough, I chose either red or black – and then had to throw the ball randomly to someone else – and it was someone I didn’t know – and they then chose one of the two suits in that colour, and then they had to chuck the ball to someone else to give the card a value. I won’t tell you how the trick resolves itself, but I can absolutely guarantee that a) I had no previous contact with Mr R, nor b) the other people who picked up the ball, so c) our choice of card was completely 100% random. But I don’t think it was random on his part because I am absolutely certain he deliberately chose me to pick the colour. Why, I don’t know. But I am sure it wasn’t an accident. One of life’s great mysteries!

Jamie Raven LiveRefreshingly fun for all the family – there were loads of children in and they got a fair say in the action too. His tour continues through June and July and also in November, throughout England and also Jersey and Inverness. Fantastic entertainment – I absolutely loved the show. And Mrs C did too – so hopefully I now have a new convert to magic! You should definitely go!

Review – What The Butler Saw, Masque Theatre, Playhouse, Northampton, 31st May 2016

What The Butler SawWe hadn’t seen any productions by the Masque Theatre before, but, after a suggestion by our friend and blogging colleague Mr Smallmind, we thought we’d bite the bullet for their production of Joe Orton’s What The Butler Saw. I must be honest; Mrs Chrisparkle did take a little persuasion to agree to come, as the memory of some previous amateur productions she has seen is enough to bring her out in hives. Nevertheless, on the recommendation of our friend and on the strength of the play, we did it.

MasqueI’d always wanted to see a production of What The Butler Saw, but never have – in fact, I realise that this is the first time I have seen any Orton play on stage. I read all his works voraciously when I was about 16, finding them all completely irresistible, and for me they haven’t lost their edge one iota. This classic, blind leading the blind or rather mad leading the sane but but they seem mad, comedy is crammed with fantastically funny lines, strong characters and a beautiful sense of surrealism. It contains some of my favourite quotes from 20th century drama. Mrs Prentice tells her husband she is going to take up with an Indian boyfriend. In the real world this would lead to a response regarding marriage break-up, or jealousy, or fury, or some other emotion. In Orton’s world, however, the man replies: “you can’t take lovers in Asia, the airfare would be crippling”. Apart, of course, from the rather salacious nature of many of his plays, it’s that oddish use of language that really sets him apart from his contemporaries. Mrs Prentice, again, this time when cornered to admit that she’s been faking her orgasms: “my uterine contractions have been bogus for some time!” There’s a delightful bourgeois tone lurking in there. You could almost hear the 1970s Penelope Keith saying it. Even the reunion of twins at the end of the show is reminiscent of The Importance of Being Earnest.

Joe OrtonWhat The Butler Saw wasn’t performed until 1969, two years after Orton’s death and one year after the withdrawal of censorship. I think the censor would have bridled at some of the content but would have been most uncomfortable when dealing with the missing parts of Sir Winston Churchill. Under censorship, you weren’t allowed to “represent on the stage in an invidious manner a living person or a person recently dead”; and interestingly it was only in the 1975 production that Sergeant Match finally got to hold aloft Winnie’s missing penis (for that, gentle reader, was the erroneous part of his statue lost in the gas explosion, which became embedded in Geraldine’s grandmother). Ralph Richardson, who played Dr Rance in 1969, couldn’t go along with that, so they made do with using Winnie’s cigar instead. Orton would have hated the lack of gumption. Anyway, it’s great to see the play still doing the rounds in both professional and amateur productions.

Dr RanceThere’s no point pretending that this was a perfect production because it wasn’t; nevertheless, I’m not going to criticise anyone who takes part in amateur dramatics because a) I haven’t the guts to do it myself and b) well, it would be churlish. To be fair, the little Playhouse stage lends itself very nicely to the production, and the six actors manage to perform a lot of physical comedy, often just in their underwear, without getting in each other’s way or tripping each other up, which is more than can be said for the recent production of Chicago at the Derngate. The only effect too far for this production was to recreate the security bars that surround the stage once Dr Rance has set off the alarm, making the Sergeant’s final appearance through the skylight more understandable; we just had a change of lighting and to work on our imagination instead.

Jof DaviesPeter Darnell directs the play at a crisp pace and with a nice feel for the nonsensical way in which we, the general public, will do anything that a doctor tells us to in the consulting room. From the cast, Mrs C and I both agreed that the ladies did a particularly good job. Lisa Shepherd gave a very confident performance as Geraldine, desperately clinging on to the idea that there must be some good reason why she’s dressed as a bell-hop, or maybe not dressed much at all. I also thought Nicky Osborne added a lot of oomph to the character of Mrs Prentice, delightfully conveying her open sexual nature and her frustrations at being lumbered with Dr Prentice. I enjoyed Jof Davies’ portrayal of hotel-boy Nick, matter-of-factly demanding money for the steamy photos he took of Mrs Prentice the previous night; and whereas Miss Shepherd could almost pass for a bell-hop on a dark night, there’s no way you could ever think Mr Davies could be mistaken for a female secretary; well, not in that dress anyway. But, then, that’s all part of the fun.

Michael GravesIt’s an ambitious play, with a lot of onstage shenanigans, and everyone gave it a good stab, and you can’t ask for more than that. Great fun, if not for all the family, then for everyone who’s ever fancied a little hows-your-father when they shouldn’t. On until Saturday 4th June!

Review – Jekyll and Hyde, The McOnie Company, Old Vic, 28th May 2016

Jekyll and HydeThe Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has come a long way since its first appearance as Robert Louis Stevenson’s celebrated novella back in 1886. Several films, a musical, a play, TV series, even video games have all taken their inspiration from that original story about the decent everyman character who cannot control his evil side. Even if you haven’t read it – and I expect precious few of us have, I certainly haven’t – everyone knows the premise and everyone will have, at some time or other, have had reason to refer to someone as “a bit Jekyll and Hyde”.

Old VicIt’s excellent news for dance lovers that the Old Vic have decided to bring dance back to their regular drama seasons in their beautiful traditional theatre. And I can think of no choreographer better than Drew McOnie to bring a big, punchy story-based dance to the London Stage. He’s the next generation’s Sir Matthew Bourne. One of the reasons why I wasn’t wowed on the recent touring production of Chicago was that it lacked Mr McOnie’s choreographic deftness that we had seen in hisDanny Collins and Rachel Muldoo Leicester version of the show. He can bring magic to an old favourite, such as Oklahoma, or create something completely original like Drunk. I’m still to see In The Heights, I expect that will be amazing too. So when I realised that he was creating a dance version of Jekyll and Hyde I knew it was a Must See.

Ebony Molina and Jason WinterAnd, boy, was I right. It’s an immense production. The set is extraordinary, the costumes are evocative, and the lighting is sensational, with some of the best use of strobe you’ll see in ages. There’s an intricate array of props that really provide detail to the scenes, like all the stock in Jekyll’s flower shop or all the potions and chemicals in his laboratory. Grant Olding’s soaring score is passionate and evocative, combining dozens of different rhythms and moods, perfect for accompanying the range of scenes from high comedy, through Hollywood glamour to Grand Guignol. The overall effect is an assault on the senses and the feeling that you are watching something on a huge scale. It was that marvellous sense of being delightfully overwhelmed.

EnsembleThe show has some really big dramatic moments and the combination of top choreography and exciting music means that they work incredibly well. The first time that Jekyll turns into Hyde really spooks you. Jekyll nips into the shower and you think this might become a slightly saucy comedy moment, but as his jaunty cheery music gets gradually taken over by Hyde’s serious heavy metal, you realise that the man also has been taken over, but by someone with evil on their mind. It’s a brilliant idea to have two dancers play the roles, rather than have one try to encapsulate both sides of the character; the visible difference between the two dancers makes the differences between the two characters much stronger. All the murders that Hyde commits are really powerful dance/drama moments; chillingly executed (literally) by both Hyde and the production. And there’s a very effective nod to the aforementioned Sir Matthew Bourne in the final scene, where all the characters crawl out of the woodwork at Jekyll’s lab (just like the swans do from the headboard in Swan Lake).

spookyBut the stand-out aspect of the piece for me was its extraordinarily clear storytelling. Dance can beguile you with its mystery, its deliberate ambiguity, and with just a suggestion of narrative leaving you to fill in the gaps. That’s fine – I really enjoy that challenge. But with Jekyll and Hyde Mr McOnie has made the narrative as clear as daylight. And by that, I don’t mean it’s one-dimensional or “easy”; I mean that it’s a strong story with rewarding plot development that unfolds naturally and for the benefit and entertainment of the audience. This also helps you to identify with the characters – to will them on, to empathise with them, to keep your fingers crossed that they will survive unscathed – even though you know this is a forlorn hope. You couldn’t fail to identify with the character of Jekyll, as his emotions are all laid bare by Mr McOnie’s dramatic choreography.

Tim HodgesBut that’s only part of Jekyll’s magic. I’d seen Danny Collins in Drunk, and Show Boat, and thought he was a great dancer. However, this role has taken him to a new level. Within literally seconds of the show starting I knew that he was going to make a truly stunning impact. I can’t dance but I would have thought it was an extraordinarily demanding role. His athleticism combined with his characterisation is superb. He dances in love, he dances in fear; he dances with cheeky humour, he dances facing intimidation and threat; he dances facing death and destruction. For me it was one of the finest dance performances I’ve ever seen.

Jekyll and DahliaTim Hodges is perfect for the other side of his character, the malevolent and selfish Mr Hyde. He really conveys the delight with which Hyde goes on his sprees, and whenever Mr Collins goes out and Mr Hodges reappears you get a real frisson of horror. The swap-round moments where Jekyll becomes Hyde are brilliantly realised all the way through; and I also really loved Mr Hodges’ interactions with Ebony Molina’s incredibly expressive Ivy, including his dramatic launch on the bed from way on high!

Ivy and CharlieI particularly enjoyed the performance of Alexzandra Sarmiento as Daisy, who has a fantastic I’m happy to be dancing in a flower shop solo, full of genuine joy and optimism, which makes the character’s ultimate demise even more affecting. After Hyde has run riot, Miss Sarmiento is extraordinarily good at playing dead! Anabel Kutay, as always, delivers both comic and serious with her inimitable sensual style, Rachel Muldoon conveyed all Dahlia’s growing affection for Jekyll with great sincerity and class, and Jason Winter was a terrifically bullying Charlie (whose come-uppance was fantastically dramatic). But the whole cast are amazing and give such strong, committed performances so that there’s never a down moment or a misplaced foot.

DancingI’ll be honest – I thought the constant scene changes, though accurately and seamlessly achieved, slightly got in the way of the dancing, sometimes creating an unwanted interruption to the action, rather than enhancing the performance. But this is a comparatively minor quibble. The show had such a brief run at the Old Vic for this superb production – surely it deserves a life somewhere after this? If you were lucky enough to see it, cherish those memories! If you didn’t see it – you definitely should be kicking yourselves!

Production photos by Manuel Harlan