The 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”.
It’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 his 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.
And, 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.
The 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).
But 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.
But 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.
Tim 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!
I 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.
I’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