Drew McOnie’s Jekyll & Hyde, The McOnie Company’s first full-length production, brings dance back to the stage of the Old Vic with a vibrant re-imagining of R.L. Stevenson’s classic story. McOnie’s twist on the tale presents Dr Jekyll (the brilliant Daniel Collins) as a geeky botanist who discovers an attraction to the dark side of his nature almost by accident.
Set in the 1950’s – cue big, colourful skirts and a bluesy, back-alley nightclub – Jekyll conducts experiments in the lab behind his drab flower shop, attempting to create bigger and better flowers in an early brush with genetic modification. An impulsive inclusion of his blood suddenly transforms his weedy plants in to bright, blooming specimens and it’s not long before he discovers the potion has a similar effect on him.
Soutra Gilmour’s clever revolving set allows McOnie to shift quickly between scenes, the story jumping from Jekyll’s florist, to his laboratory, bedroom and the seedy club where the cast indulge in more debauched behaviour. In pursuit of his love-interest, Dahlia (Rachel Muldoon), the awkward Jekyll inadvertently finds himself in this world. It’s an opportunity for McOnie to indulge in some hot-bloodied dance routines, sequences of strong, punchy movement, attacked with conviction by an expressive and lively cast. It’s a set-up that gives this show a distinct Musical Theatre feel, its narrative scenes switching suddenly into jazz-style routines. At times these dance sequences do not quite settle with the story, but the narrative elements of McOnie’s work make up for this. Delicately choreographed, the clear, expressive movement portrays the character’s thoughts and feelings even in the absence of words.
McOnie’s style lies somewhere between jazz and contemporary, with a touch of old Hollywood-style glamour thrown in. These old-style moments are where McOnie shines as a choreographer, the movement smooth and stylish, leading to some beautiful duets between Jekyll and Dahlia. McOnie isn’t adverse to adding a touch of humour to his work either and the moments where he’s clearly having fun with his choreography, Jekyll’s gawky pelvic twitches being one such instance, keep the show light and lively.
Perhaps surprisingly, McOnie has chosen to use two different dancers to play the opposing sides of Jekyll’s character. Hyde, played by Tim Hodges, is a macho, muscular, smooth-dancing persona – a far cry from Jekyll’s charmingly awkward character. The ladies find Hyde as irresistible as Jekyll’s flowers, whose apparently seductive scent invokes a drug-like addiction, the cast crowding to Jekyll’s shop to get their floral fix. It’s a concept that allows for a meeting point between the two worlds Jekyll has begun to inhabit and, along with the revolving set, this narrative connection helps the show maintain a feeling of constant motion.
The second half sees a rapid escalation in Jekyll’s difficulty in controlling the murderous impulses of Hyde. It’s a shame that more time is given to setting up Jekyll’s love interest than to exploring the gritty, psychological conflictions of Stevenson’s novel yet, as the story rushes towards its conclusion, we still grasp a hint of the dangers of playing with the dark side of human nature. Despite the dramatic strobe-lighting the uncontrollable changes between Jekyll and Hyde are deftly portrayed, with remarkably smooth transitions between the two characters. As the Hyde of the second half leaves a string of victims in his wake we see a tortured solo from Jekyll, a hint of his internal battle, before the show runs into its sudden, dramatic conclusion.
When two dancers are playing the separate characters of Jekyll and Hyde it takes a well-constructed finale to envisage Jekyll succumbing to the monster within him and McOnie neatly achieves this. Jekyll & Hyde is a colourful, stylish show performed by a strong and energetic cast. It’s a work however, that relies heavily on its lead character and with Collin’s superb performance as the endearing, misguided Jekyll, McOnie’s narrative gains a lot of strength. Although it could push further the psychological torture of Jekyll’s split personality, this is a slick and enjoyable work and it will likely prove a popular show.
Jekyll & Hyde is on until 28th May 2016. Click here for more details.