On Tuesday night I went to the dress rehearsal of Devizes Musical Theatre’s production of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, at Dauntsey’s School.
‘Jekyll and Hyde’ is a contemporary pop rock musical, based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. Stevenson’s book was published in 1886, during the decade when Freud began to practice, and Victorian dinner tables buzzed with talk of psychology, new scientific discoveries, sex, and religion, in the light of new understanding. The musical was written by Leslie Bricusse, with score by Frank Wildhorn, and first hit the stage in 1990, before ending up on Broadway in 1997.
You know the story, right? Scientist gets confused about good and evil, as you do, and a bit bothered about his dark desires, and makes a major blunder getting his hit together, as a consequence of which one part of himself behaves really badly and things go rapidly downhill. Oh yes, and it’s an exploration of duality within the human psyche and of what can happen when the ‘natural’ instincts within man are allowed to go unchecked. Take some dignitaries, a mad scientist, a dodgy potion, a sweet girl, a bad girl, a few hypocritical society types, and a brace of prostitutes, chuck ‘em all together and…what could possibly go wrong? ‘Murder, Murder’, that’s what…
Devizes Musical Theatre have got a bit serious over the years, since their inception in 1965, and the Dauntsey’s stage is the best in the area. This show is directed by Matt Dauncey, with a 16 piece orchestra conducted by Susan Braunton. I know that I’m enjoying a show when the thought of an egg sandwich doesn’t cross my mind till afterwards, so we’ll see how we go.
The set is minimal, with dramatic lighting to emphasise the suspense and Gothic horror of it all, and, whilst ‘comments on style should never be made by those who have none’, the Victorian costumes (Jen Warren) are authentic and beautiful. It is my observation that in some amateur productions you have a few glorious ones and everyone else has had to see what they could do with a table cloth and a tea towel, but there’s none of that here.
Jekyll (Hyde) is a massive part, and a huge test for any actor. It’s all about the transformation (think American Werewolf in London, but less hairy), and keeping the parts ‘definite and opposite’, that quote coming from Gareth Lloyd, who plays Jekyll and Hyde but who is tonight in the audience, watching his understudy, Andrew Curtis, who will be playing the part in the matinee, on the stage. One is amused by the fact that there are two Jekylls and two Hydes in the house, and I’m interested in how Gareth plays Hyde, and the differences between his and Andrew’s interpretation of the part. Various quotes on his version include ‘playfully evil’, ‘anarchic’, and ‘physically animated’. ‘Go on, give me your Hyde’ I say, and Gareth flops his hair over his eyes and looks at me with the only scary wild eye I can see. Woah!
Andrew’s performance is tense, restrained, and quietly creepy, and his transformation is utterly believable. I have five shiver moments during this show, and the one I get when he is ‘stroking’ Lucy during their dark and very well played duet, ‘A Dangerous Game’ is the least pleasant. His Hyde gets more mad, twisted, contorted, tortured and frightening as the show goes on. Whilst I prefer his acting over his vocals, there’s nothing that jars or disappoints, and I can’t take my eyes off him while he’s on the stage.
The other four shivers are as follows; the first ensemble number, ‘Façade’, when I realise that the orchestra and cast are rocking a Big Fat Sound, and that the show is going to be a) exciting and b) good; Lucy’s (Laura Deacon) first solo (so clear and powerful) ; the prostitutes’ dance (oh my eyes!) in ‘Bring On The Men’; and Emma (Naomi Ibbetson) and Lucy’s wonderful rendition of ‘In His Eyes’.
All of the parts are played well, but the truly shiny performances come from Laura Deacon and Andrew Curtis, and Naomi Ibbetson, whose voice can always be relied on. There’s not a huge opportunity in this script for anyone else to shine much, to be fair, but Ian Diddams deserves a mention for his brutal brothel keeper, Spider, even if that beard does make him look a bit like Super Mario, and Sam Fillis for Stride. And there’s no sign of that phenomena, present in more than a few amateur productions, that I call, rather bitchily, the lumpen chorus. That’s people just hanging around looking like they’re thinking about egg sandwiches, and what day is it anyway, and oh, is it me now? There’s none of that, there are all sorts of little cameos going on in the background, everyone’s on point, and no-one attracts the attention of my critical eye.
It’s a great show. It’s scary, (maybe too scary for little kids), suspenseful, engaging, atmospheric, sexy and spectacular, and Devizes Musical Theatre should be pretty pleased with it.
And that was just the dress rehearsal…
Eight out of ten, and I didn’t think about an egg sandwich once.
Go along, if you can.
© Gail Foster 11th April 2018
(Creepy fact: the Jack the Ripper murders started within weeks of Richard Mansfield’s performance and production of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in London, in 1888, and finished shortly after its short run came to a close…)