Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Hyde drags us down to pit of depravity

STOP! Before you turn the page muttering: Musicals are not my thing — musicals are not my thing either but this HAODS production is truly an exception.

Jekyll & Hyde — The Musical
Kenton Theatre
Tuesday, May 24

STOP! Before you turn the page muttering: Musicals are not my thing — musicals are not my thing either but this HAODS production is truly an exception.

You probably know the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde — tormented scientist, realising that good and bad exist in each of us, determines to find a way to isolate the evil and so make the world a happier place — but this musical turns up the angst by quite a few notches.

Set in 1880s London, a place of brothels and bigotry, prostitutes and poverty, Dr Jekyll loathes the facade of the society of the day while struggling with the hypocrisy within himself.

A psychotherapist would have a field day with this repressed, conflicted character but we all agonise as he falls deeper into his own darkness. The production opens memorably in the Violent Ward of a hospital for the insane — a gripping start and this production does not let up on the emotions from then on.

One of the most striking aspects of this production is the montages, reminiscent of early etchings of London scenes — accolades to set designers and director and choreographer, Jennamarie Smith for such imaginative staging.

The pop-rock score is ably played from the orchestra pit under the expert baton of musical director, Jonathan Heard.

The acting and vocal strength of James Gwynne (Jekyll and Hyde) come to the fore in Act II when Jekyll’s Hyde side begins to surface — clearly Gwynne is more suited to wickedness than to virtue!

As he drags himself through the depths of depravity and despair, he drags us with him. As Hyde, Gwynne is truly scary. As Jekyll, he portrays a confused young man. The contrast and his change of energy is excellent.

Some other voices of note come from Helen Eastwood (Emma Carew, the fiancée) and Richard Evans (Bishop of Basingstoke) but the voice of the night must be that of new-to-HAODS, Vanessa Clayton (Lucy Harris).

From raunchy to romantic, Vanessa Clayton can sing it all and she does. When she sings “If someone like you found someone like me” you will feel like marching against inequality in all its forms just for Lucy and her like. Eileen Pinkarchevski (Lady Beaconsfield) succeeds in making us dislike her and all her ilk for her snobbish hypocrisy — a big achievement within a fairly small role.

The stage sets are atmospheric and reminiscent of spooky, foggy nights in old London town, the costumes are colourful, the staging, direction and choreography are stunning.

There’s no space to mention everyone of note but if you fancy an evening of high drama, tension and terror, tear-jerking moments and a bit of romance, this production of Jekyll & Hyde has it all.

Why travel anywhere else when HAODS offers you all this and more in Henley’s Kenton Theatre? The high drama carries on until the very last moment: this is one show that will keep you gripping your seat until the very last curtain call.

Until May 28.
Bridget Fraser

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