BWW Review: JEKYLL AND HYDE, Cockpit Theatre, January 19 2016

BWW Review: JEKYLL AND HYDE, Cockpit Theatre, January 19 2016

On a beautiful Art Deco set (black and white of course) sultry singers, slinky in bias cut dresses, sing Gershwin, Porter and Berlin, while professional men bicker about the limits of science and the benefits of matrimony. All seems rather civilised, but one man, a Doctor Jekyll, seems obsessed about his work on the duality of the mind - its splitting between good and evil, each element
battling for supremacy in every individual. Soon, as we all know, he starts to experiment on himself, releasing the psychotic Mr Hyde from within to wreak havoc on the streets of London.

Eric Gracev's retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale is set in the 1930s, with songs weaving in and out of the narrative (think Dennis Potter in Pennies from Heaven mode). It is bold in its conception and, aside from some awkward miming of coffee drinking, bold too in its execution. A piano on stage tinkles throughout adding gentility and offsetting Mr Hyde going the whole Patrick Bateman (mercifully without the gore and the Phil Collins) in one harrowing scene. The dichotomies keep coming!

Yet, for all its many strengths, this production doesn't quite reach its potential. The script, though full of sparkling dialogue, could be cut by 30 minutes, as there's a lot of exposition in a story about as familiar as any in the English language. Though the cast do well in multiple roles, with some Brechtianly visible costume changes upstage to ease the transformations, not every actor suits every part they play.

Crucially, though good as a healthy, if unstable, Doctor Jekyll, Oliver Hume never really convinces as a wasted, rakish, elemental Mr Hyde - the transformation needs to be one of movement and presence as much as in mind and attitude. There's good work from Daniel Blacker as Jekyll's friend, Mr. Utterson (though it's hard to believe that a man as bright as him would not have put two and two together) and from Nicola Foxfield, who sings with great skill and feeling and invests Hyde's victim, Rose, with a quiet dignity.

It's a given that it's pointless simply to do a straight Dr J and Mr H because it's been done so many times before; and it's also pointless to try to recreate the kinds of special effects one sees in even low budget movies, so Blue Orange Theatre should be commended for their original and, at times, captivating take on a familiar classic. It would be better still with a bit less speaking and a bit more singing.

Jekyll and Hyde continues at the Cockpit Theatre until 6 February.

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From This Author Gary Naylor

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