Director - Andrew Hodgson
Musical Director - Tim Lutton
Choreography - Jess Eades
By Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse
Book by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Theatre Royal, Winchester 6th - 9th November 2019
Jekyll & Hyde - Matt McGrath
Emma Carew - Lisa Axworthy
Lucy Harris - Molly Moffitt
Gabriel John Utterson - James Ashby
Sir Danvers Carew - John Earwood
Simon Stride - Simon Meanwell-Ralph
The Bishop of Basingstoke - Wesley Buckeridge
General Lord Glossop - Martin Humphrey
Lady Beaconsfield - Annie Tatnall
Spider - Gill Cooper
Lady Savage - Lucy Francis
Sir Archibald Proops - Stephen Gleed
Nellie - Kara Goodland
Bissett - Lyndsay Smith
Poole - Juliet Surridge
Female Ensemble: Funke Akiboye, Jan Baerselman, Cressida Bullough, Talia Burrell, Emma Colbourne, Shannon Cronin, Kimberley James, Sharon Puchot, Lydia Simpson, Gina Thorley, Charlotte Upfold, Isabel Wylde
Male Ensemble: Wesley Buckeridge, David Charter, Martin Humphrey, Stephen Gleed, Alan Morgan
Following the raucous triumph of their last production, Made In Dagenham, WMOS have triumphed yet again this week, although this latest offering, Jekyll And Hyde, is a very different affair altogether. One enters the auditorium to be confronted by a towering, ominous set, around which hospital-gowned figures are moving slowly, while the occasional distant scream penetrates the silence. It's a genuinely unsettling atmosphere, and perfect for the dark tale which is to unfold. The set becomes very much its own character as the piece progresses, and together with Tony Lawther's lighting, creates an environment which enhances the piece as a whole. The overall look of the show is enhanced by superb and frequently beautiful costumes.
Though many will surely be familiar with the basic premise of the story, there are some surprising (sometimes shocking) twists and turns along the way, which rather than describe in a review, are best left for an audience to discover for themselves. (One moment in particular drew a collective gasp from this evening's clearly captivated audience.) The production has been incisively and subtly directed by Andrew Hodgson (the crowd/ensemble scenes are filled with detail), there is superbly effective choreography and movement by Jess Eades, and the Musical direction by Tim Lutton is every bit as sensitive and detailed. The band make a beautiful sound, and compliment the beautiful singing of the company....and again, the balance of sound ensures that all the lyrics are clearly heard - a crucial necessity when so much of the show is sung through.
Inevitably, any production of Jekyll And Hyde stands or falls by the performance of its leading actor. Matt McGrath sings and acts superbly, achieving the complex and difficult feat of switching convincingly between the well-meaning Henry Jekyll and his increasingly horrific alter ego. It's an amazing performance, complimented by Lisa Axworthy's elegant and exquisitely sung Emma Carew, and Molly Moffitt's devastating waif-like Lucy Harris, a performance of astonishing maturity. There is strong support from John Earwood (himself a superb J/H on this very stage some years ago with Southampton Musical Society), as a classic and beautifully acted and sung Sir Danvers; and from James Ashby, who brings a genuinely affecting sensitivity to the role of John, whose loyalty to Henry is tested to an unbearable degree.
One of the joys of WMOS, and a factor which illustrates their working as a true "company", is that the ensemble/chorus are as strongly cast as the principals. Established principals from previous productions are here enhancing the ensemble, ensuring a show that is cast from strength throughout, and very much a showcase for a company at the top of its game. It all makes for a terrific night out, a spectacular piece of entertainment, and a story that might well leave you with food for thought long after the cast have left the stage - which they did this evening to tumultuous applause which continued throughout, and at the conclusion of, the band's playout music. A sure sign of a deserved success.
Robert Louis Stevenson has a lot to answer for: not only did he have wooden teeth, invent the sleeping bag and get arrested for throwing snowballs, but as well as ‘Treasure Island’ he also penned ‘The Strange Tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, a dark tale whose title has become, like Marmite, an adjective.
Overhear “he’s a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character” and you’ll know exactly what they mean – that this person has two, polarised, sides to his character.
One of them good, upright and decent – the sort of chap you’d be happy to have as a son in law in fact.
The other is dark, sinister, absolutely evil and the complete nemesis of his counterpart but living in the same, tortured body.
It’s a tale that has spawned many characters such as ‘The Incredible Hulk’ and even Jerry Lewis’s ‘The Nutty Professor’.
Indeed, fables containing mythical werewolves and vampires have parallels with this theme, along with more scientific explanations like schizophrenia.
There can be few audience members who are unfamiliar with the general background to the story. For many it raises concerns regarding mental illness in the light of modern, enlightened times. Despite it being a work of fiction it is (allegedly) inspired by a nightmare the author experienced.
Stevenson’s original tale contained no female roles to speak of, and certainly no heroines. Nor, of course, was it set to music, even though he was an accomplished musician as well as an author.
But since the late 19th Century when it was written and set, there have been over 120 adaptations of the original novel.
The musical version with music by Frank Wildgorn, Steve Cuden and Leslie Bricusse, first appeared on stage in the early 1990s since when it has undergone many subtle changes. Stevenson would probably approve of this adaptation, reasonably faithful as it is to his original but with an updated, musical twist.
The plot is simple enough: good versus evil, set against the backdrop of Victorian England at a time when Jack The Ripper wasn’t just a legend but actually kept people from venturing far at night.
The music, however, is far from simple – even though it is melodic (but not in a foot tapping way).
Operatic and mesmeric chord and tempo changes add to the dark, sinister mood throughout and, my goodness, there are some high notes to hit for some of the cast. The musical and vocal challenges are daunting but well met by the whole cast and ten piece orchestra led by Musical Director Tim Lutton.
So I would venture to say that this was neither an easy nor an obvious choice of production for WMOS and debut director Andrew Hodgson; but then having been enthralled by their previous offerings, the most recent being the amazing ‘Made in Dagenham’ I am not surprised. This group obviously enjoys rising to the challenges other companies shy away from.
Looking to the talented cast – who excel, whether in principal or supporting roles – there are no weak links, just enthusiasm, superb acting, singing and movement, well choreographed by Jess Eades.
The attention to detail in the chorus numbers is difficult to capture as one’s eyes dart from stage left to right, taking in the subtle and well-rehearsed business that makes situations real and which keeps the actors in character.
One chorus number, ‘Murder, Murder’, still resonates with me as I write this; such was the power of the ensemble’s singing and stage presence.
Matt McGrath as both the tortured Dr Jekyll and the horrible Edward Hyde, is exceptional in his characterisation; two very different voices and changes in appearance (helped by his sometimes unruly mop of hair) differentiate the two characters and even in his final solo when the alter egos are mentally pulling him apart there is no doubting who is Jekyll and who is Hyde. McGrath nails it, both in acting terms and in his singing – he must surely go to bed exhausted after every performance.
Other stand-out performances (if one really must choose, because this ensemble is so good) are provided by the two female leads. Lisa Axworthy as Henry Jekyll’s sweet, long suffering fiancée Emma Carew contrasts nicely with Lucy Harris, the ‘lady of the night’, played with conviction and warmth by Molly Moffit. Their harmonic duet ‘In His Eyes’ in the second act is both haunting and touching – these actresses have voices you could listen to all night.
There are many dramatic scenes, yes, many of them anticipated (as with all good Victorian melodrama) but nonetheless some come as a bit of a shock to the system when they do arrive. No spoilers, but this is the 19th century equivalent of the TV show you might hide behind the sofa for when the nasty bits happen.
Overall, I think you could clip ten minutes off the first half which takes a while to get going (I found myself willing Jekyll to drink that potion just to see what would happen) and notwithstanding a couple of slightly odd cues at tonight’s performance, the lighting is superbly moody.
Lighting and Sound Designer Tony Lawther must have come up with every lighting plot possible – I’m surprised TRW didn’t run short of bulbs, circuits, smoke or imagination when it came to creating the kind of atmosphere to compliment and enhance Liz Petley-Jones’ inspiring, towering set design and fabulous costumes by Jo Barker and Tash Francis.
There are still a few tickets left for the remaining performances so I strongly urge you to go and support this talented local theatre company whilst you can.
Jekyll & Hyde – the Musical was written for the stage by Steve Cuden & Frank Wildhorn, book & Lyrics by Leslie Bricuss, and music by Frank Wildhorn based on the original story by Robert Louis Stevenson. This is a very powerful and emotional musical which transfixed the audience throughout.
The casting of this show was exemplary. All the principals worked well together and the balance outstanding. Matt McGrath maintained the role of both Jekyll & Hyde superbly well changing his body language and tone between roles – from good to evil and back again. The role of Dr Jekyll’s fiancée, Emma Carew, was sympathetically played and beautifully sung by Lisa Axworthy. Lucy, who is bewitched by Dr Jekyll and falls victim to Hyde was well acted and most expressively sung by Molly Moffitt. All three main principals worked very well together.
The whole principal line up was exceptionally well balanced and each and every one had a finely developed persona. The well-prepared ensemble all added to the story, great facial expressions and movements. Everyone immersed themselves in their roles played their part making this an excellent production. The choreography by Jess Eades was well thought out, perfectly executed and used the superb set to great effect.
The crew should take a bow for their input - creative set design, subtle but effective lighting and sound all of which put the finishing touches to all the weeks of hard work put in by the cast.
The director, Andrew Hodgson is to be congratulated for his insight into the story and for being able to convey his ideas to the cast who created such intense but believable characterisations. Tim Lutton, the musical director, achieved great things with this very talented cast both the solos and the ensemble pieces were excellent especially in tone and dynamic.
Well done to you all.
Marie Coltman NODA Regional Rep and Kay Rowan NODA SE Councillor