When you're a theatre critic and you see lots of productions, you are in danger of 'getting used to' or even 'becoming immune to' hyped shows. But every once in a while something special happens and yesterday's Jekyll and Hyde at the Uninon Theatre was such an occasion.
First, let me tell you that it was about time that someone brought Frank Wildhorn/Leslie Bricusse's fantastic adaptation of Stevenson's masterpiece to London. We had it in Belgium in the late 1990's, if my memory is correct, but it was a completely different show.
This Morphic Graffiti production is perfect for Southwark. The dark and gloomy atmosphere that is so typical for some parts of the area, is succesfully caught in the stage design. It brings about a feeling of uneasiness, which adds to the tension, even before the show has started. You know when you enter the auditorium that something weird is going to happen. You just don't know what... If you're not familiar with the story, that is. And this growing feeling of anxiety is kept throughout the show.
The set design by Stewart Charlesworth is amazing. It is cunningly functional and excitingly spot on. It also stayed true to the Romantic origins of the novel, eventhough the 21st century is never far away. Luke Fredericks, director, indeed chose a very present day approach in his staging of the show. Hoodies that reminded me of the riots in London a few years ago, were present when Hyde indulged in his first murders, Jekyll wrote his diary entries on his Apple MacBook Pro, the crowd made pictures of the victims, using their iPhones, Big Issue sellers in the street, and I'm only naming the obvious eye-catchers, but there are more.
Also Fredericks' way of making the audience part of the story by bringing the actors very close, is brilliant. When I left the theatre, I picked up Jekyll's wedding jacket from the ground. He had taken it off, standing next to me, which made me feel part of the action. Of course you get that when you put your show on in a small venue, but this time it was more than that. During the transformationscene, for example, the effect of the lighted face of a Jekyll/Hyde you could almost touch, made it even more gripping. Everyone in the audience must have felt that this chemical potion that causes a good guy to turn into a bad guy when triggered, 'hides' in everyone of us. Very fascinating and scary.
I had the pleasure of watching both Stewart Charlesworth and Luke Fredericks perform in 'The Rocky Horror Show' when I was in Hamburg. I'm not surprised that they have both done such an excellent job with this 'Jekyll & Hyde' as they know the business from within. Great job, guys!
Tom Curran is responsible for the new arrangements to Wildhorns very enthralling score in this production. It was a pleasure to hear the 'overdone' 'This is the Moment' brought back to what it was meant for: a held back, euphoric hymn of careful excitement because someone is on the edge of doing something extraordinary. Tom Curran definitely created a suitable heartbeat to Fredericks' staging and a very enthousiastic Dean Austen took his skillful musicians through the score. I wonder if this Sophie Byrne, playing the flute, is the same Sophie Byrne who I saw play Magenta in Hamburg? She might be. Most actors are very versatile!
As for the cast... They were brilliant. During 'ensemble' scenes like 'Murder, Murder' every single person on stage, shone and added a subtle personal touch. Madalene Alberto's 'Someone Like You' sent shivers down my spine and reminded me of Hilde Norga, who played Lucy in our Flemish production. I remember going back the next day, because I didn't believe she could impress me like that again... but she could.
Also 'In His Eyes' was breathtakingly beautiful and underlined the completely different types of actress Madalene Alberto and Joanna Strand are. They were equally brilliant.
Tim Rogers, both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, is so very smart. The way he plays Jekyll is of course completely different from the way he plays Hyde, but he shifts from one to the other flawlessly and that's remarkable. His Jekyll is a rather meaningless idealist, but his Hyde really is charismatic. One cannot help but be drawn to this Hyde, even if he's evil and develish. I was lucky enough to see Tim Rogers as 'The Man' in Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Whistle Down the Wind' and even then I was overwhelmed by his charismatic performance. But this time it's Massive!
If you ask me, everyone who has a hand in this production, deserves credit. It's clearly the result of a huge group effort and it deserves every success possible.
The programme says it's Morphic Graffiti's inaugural production? Well, bring on the next one then. I wouldn't want to miss it for the world!
Christel Carnas (Belgian reviewer for 'Musicals- das Musicalmagazin)