Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Jekyll and Hyde: the Musical at New Wimbledon Theatre

Wimbledon Theatre last night was buzzier than most West End shows I've been to in quite a while.

Maybe the atmosphere brings out the best in the players but it was certainly a very impressive performance from Marti Pellow in the title role - the 'mad scientist' who falls foul of his own experiment, and from the supporting cast, including impressive sopranos Sarah Earnshaw and Sabrina Carter, playing respectively his fiancee and his unfortunate lower-class playmate.

Well-meaning Dr Jekyll, a scientist in Darwinian mode, is convinced he can separate good from evil in human nature so the bad part can be eliminated. The exposition of the plot and and songs was very clear, from Jekyll's initial appeal to a hospital board to allow him a human guinea-pig, to his eventual downfall. Upper-crust gatherings alternate with backstreet slums and and taverns until Jekyll's nature is overcome by his alter-ego Hyde and he keeps to his laboratory, venturing out only to murder enemies of society and abuse the prostitute girlfriend he picked up in a tavern. His behaviour comes to mirror that of the society he rails against.

Robert Louis Stevenson's story reminds us of our debt to Victorian writers for the creation of so many atmospheric works. Dr Jekyll synthesises a youthful Sherlock Holmes, a driven Doctor Frankenstein and a Charles Dickens charged with reformist zeal. On the darker side, Edinburgh-born Stevenson touches on Burke and Hare's gruesome activities, while the ghost of Jack The Ripper seems to hover over the stage.

Marti Pellow, who started as a singer with 'Wet Wet Wet', carries the role with assurance and his voice ranges form poignant sincerity to a deranged shout without losing clarity.

Mark Bailey's set seems underlit and confining in the first Act and only reveals its amazing versatility, with some projected image help, after the interval. Few of the songs are lyrical but the love duet 'Take me as I am' has strong emotional appeal and 'In his Eyes' is a touching paeon to female devotion. One of the best chorus songs is the tavern song, 'Bring on the Men', delivered in a 'Cabaret' style, and 'Facade', about public corruption, sung by a chorus of cockney street vendors.

My only complaint is that in the transition scenes there was not enough difference in the visual appearance of Jekyll and Hyde - mussed hair and the donning of a fur-trimmed cloak didn't do it for me. Arguably as I was at the back of the stalls I missed the full effect, but I heard laughter from further forwards as Jekyll emerged apparently none the worse after his doubled-up groaning. Arguably, too, it was more in keeping with the theme of how deceptive appearance can be.

There's an excellent programme with full information about all the cast, musicians and creative team, and I'd thoroughly recommend the show - the audience at Wimbledon were certainly enthusiastic. I'd hesitate to take young children because of a shocking throat-cutting scene towards the end. It plays all this week in Wimbledon and then moves for a week's run at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley.

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