R. L. Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, published in 1886, is a dark and gothic tale that most people are acquainted with in some way or another. Exploring a scientific experiment gone wrong, it’s a narrative of duality; good versus evil, intuitive versus psychological, clashing of personalities, and two sets of repressed desires. Despite its multiple adaptations, it has now been transformed into a narrative-based dance production. Matthew Warchus (Artistic Director of The Old Vic) commissioned Jekyll and Hyde as part of the new dance collaboration with The McOnie Company, and the dance thriller is as unique as it is innovative from beginning to end.
The production opens with Jekyll; a nerdy, timid florist (played by Daniel Collins), who is desperately trying to concoct a serum to get his flowers to bloom. Moving the nineteenth-century novel to a 1950’s London setting, the first half of the production has a distinct inspiration from Little Shop of Horrors; we see Jekyll engage in multiple flower competitions, and fall in love with the loyal customer Dahlia – who is played by Rachel Muldoon.
After a cut finger adds blood to Jekyll’s latest mixture, Mr. Hyde (Tim Hodges) starts taking over. Swapping between the two dancers, we get a clever contrast between the delicate, fast-paced movements from Collins, and the aggressive, strong and masculine steps from Hodges. This concept is complimented by costume change – Hyde’s yellow power suit will surely be in audience members’ minds for days to come! The fleeting switch from one persona to the other is also mirrored by the show’s lightning. Strikes within the shower and the shadows punctuates Grant Olding’s score as it moves from delicate, romantic music to gruesome heavy metal. The score keeps the pace of the production and adds to the narrative’s tension as we shift between Jekyll’s romantic endeavours to the horrific violence of Hyde.
As for the set, Soutra Gilmour’s clever three-part revolving structure spins from multiple different locations; we seamlessly move from the shop front to the basement, before finding ourselves in a nightclub. The intricate changes underpin the ever-changing nature of Jekyll and Hyde whilst adding an element of aesthetic spectacle. The addition of the beautiful frocks, the dancing flowers, the women in pointy, fifties-style bras – alongside the skilled and very personable dancers within both the duets and the ensemble pieces – expertly brings Stevenson’s story to life with a refreshing and revitalised approach.
However, despite the elements of the production that were entertaining to watch, the show falls short in its second half where it becomes somewhat messy in style. As Jekyll’s playful demeanour disintegrates at a faster rate with Hyde slowly taking over, the sudden displays of violence feel almost misplaced, lacking motivation or the horror that the novel expertly evokes. There’s no temptation or repressed desire to kill indicated at all before the second part and, before we know it, there’s three dead bodies on Jekyll’s conscience without any conviction as to why.
Ebony Molina’s femme-fatale lacks development as her character becomes defined primarily by her lust for Hyde and nothing more – so much so that she is dressed in red from head to toe. This overused sexual stereotype glamorises sexual violence and made the second half of the show often unpleasant to watch.
Yet, despite this, the clever twist at the end in which we see Jekyll and Hyde finally confront each other in a carnal and raw fight was an exciting end to the production. Offering a physical manifestation of both characters, something we lack exposure to in the novel, it was a unique ending to the dance thriller.
I’m not sure what I was expecting from the production, but it wasn’t what I watched. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The Old Vic’s Jekyll and Hyde is by no means exceptional, but it is effective in telling a new and refreshing take on the gothic story with an outstandingly talented cast and energetic choreography.
Words by Lucy Lillystone.
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