Review: Jekyll & Hyde
Cast and creatives
Jekyll/ Hyde - Nathaniel Leigertwood
Utterson - Demar Lambert
Lanyon - Finn Kebbe
Sir Danvers Carew - Ecevit Kulucan
Poole - Will Laurence
Chickenshed presents a fearless and innovative new production of this utterly iconic story, boldly told with music, movement and a youthful vigour that honours the breathless and remorseless pace of the original novella.
Brilliantly exploring Stevenson's themes of etiquette, respectability and hypocrisy, this production will explore the dark recesses of the psyche, and reflect the tale's profound and subtle truths about what it means to be human - and how fragile the veneers of society may be.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson was first published in 1886, and depicts the constant struggle between the baser instincts and finer aspirations of mankind, offering a terrifying glimpse of what lurks beneath the surface when the persuasive but superficial trappings of civilisation are stripped away.
Chickenshed's studio theatre is a flexible, well-appointed space that allows considerable variation in the seating layout and, thus, the arrangement of the acting area.
That flexibility is seized on and put to good use here in this inventive, musical version of Robert Louis Stevenson's well-known story.
With the audience seated on two sides in four bays, the space becomes a broadly traverse arrangement that provides additional entrances between the seating bays.
The overall effect is to enlarge the acting area, or at least make it feel much bigger than it actually is.
Constance Villemot's authentic setting takes us back to the latter years of Victorian London with much brick work simulating buildings, a kind of bridge over an archway at one end of the acting area, and Dr Jekyll's laboratory at the other end, cleverly appearing via a revolve to show his scientific glassware lit from behind.
This production takes the original novella and turns it into a musical version which is sung-through.
If you're unfamiliar with that term, it means that the story-telling is delivered through songs, dance and movement, rather than dialogue between the characters.
It's not the first time that this story has been given the musical treatment and I doubt that it will be the last given the popularity of Stevenson's original concept, tinged as it is with an element of horror and bloody deeds.
Don't worry, though, this show isn't really out to scare the living daylights out of the audience, even if it does clearly capture some of the essential unnerving disquiet about the activities of the central character.
As with all Chickenshed's productions, what is most striking is the commitment of the cast, their belief in their characters and their belief in their own abilities and those of their colleagues.
There's never a moment when one doesn't feel that every actor is giving 100% of their effort, 100% of the time - and that is a real joy to experience.
Though the running time here is fairly short (in comparison with many other musicals) the show is packed with songs which are intelligently varied and permeated with a modern underlying theme.
They are well-contrasted with the historic nature of the set, and also inject the story with a strong element of currency.
Dave Carey and Hanna Bohlin's compositions sometimes embody an edgy or moody quality, while others have more melodically rich and haunting characteristics as exemplified in a couple of sumptuous ballads.
The strength of the musical accompaniment does occasionally conflict with the vocals, suggesting some rebalancing of the sound volumes might improve clarity in the overall delivery of the songs - which, of course, are the main vehicle for the show's storytelling.
A useful scene synopsis is handed-out before the show starts, but it's quite a lengthy document to read.
However, scene titles are displayed on a screen during the show which helps with understanding just where we are in the story, because it is more complex than merely a doctor swilling-down a chemical brew and then transforming into a raving monster.
But this is a commendably bold production, with something of an experimental flavour about it, and which poses a significant challenge for the young, energetic cast, focused as it is on movement, emotions and music rather than dialogue.
It's a show that relies on generating mood as much as anything, and that not only successfully provides a fresh take on Robert Louis Stevenson's gothic discourse on duality, but also enables the entire creative team to stretch their obvious capabilities to the full.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Chickenshed Theatre
Our show listing for Jekyll & Hyde
Read our reviews' policy