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Jekyll & Hyde

Date

5th November 2017

Society

Burnley Light Opera Society

Venue

Burnley Mechanics Theatre

Type of Production

Musical

Director

Anthony Williams

Musical Director

Simon Murray

Choreographer

Anthony Williams

Report

Author: David Slater

This very modern take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic story fairly exploded onto the stage at the Mechanics in a brilliantly conceived and executed production. Burnley Light Opera have a well deserved reputation for producing shows of the highest quality and this was no exception; if anything, BLOS have raised the bar again with a superb evening’s entertainment which was polished and professional. I attended the Sunday evening dinner show performance which was packed full of eager and expectant diners - having had a most excellent meal - ready for our final course of theatrical entertainment. I don’t think anybody was in the slightest bit disappointed with the rich, dark, dramatic dessert which rounded off a great evening.

As soon as the curtain opened, it was clear that this was a show which was going to be something very special. The impressive video wall, split into segments and constantly transforming to create a change of scene or mood, gave us a wonderfully atmospheric Victorian opening. Andrew Tuton stamped his mark on the role of Jekyll and established the character as a sympathetic force to be reckoned with instantly. Andrew brought a real intensity of feeling to the character and was vocally strong throughout the show in this very demanding role. In a show which is very much centred around the inner workings of Jekyll’s mind, the staging worked marvellously in creating a constantly shifting arena for the mental battle between Jekyll/Hyde. 

Another important theme of the show is that of hypocrisy and the Victorian propensity to hide less salubrious thoughts and desires behind a facade of social and moral respectability. The Board of Governors who thwart Jekyll’s plan are all as twisted, self-serving, venal and corrupt as the evil ‘Hyde’ element which Jekyll seeks to isolate and banish from the psyche. Vividly brought to life in some deliciously well drawn portraits, this was a collection of hideous Victorian grotesques. Joanne Gill dripped scorn and disdain quite marvellously as Lady Beaconsfield; Mick Dawson was suitably seedy as the perverted Bishop of Basingstoke; Steven Mercer blustered pompously as General Glossop, with John Huyton and Martin Chadwick completing the line-up of two-faced toffs as Sir Archibald Proops and Lord Savage, both exuding an air of droit de seigneur quite marvellously and Peter Rigney was a threatening presence as love rival, Simon Stride. Also worth noting was Tony Lewis’s appearance as Poole, the prim and proper butler, and Alan Whittaker’s turn as Bissett, the apothecary. 

Robin Knipe was suitably anguished as Sir Danvers, caught between respect for his future son in law’s ideas and the conventions he feels he must uphold. Jekyll’s friend and confidant, Gabriel Utterson was engagingly played by Geoff Baron, a thoughtful and polished performance adding weight to the production. The two ladies in Jekyll’s life represent both the different strata of Victorian society and the two sides of the Jekyll/Hyde psyche. Jekyll’s fiancée Emma was beautifully played by Jenny Gill who was every inch the high society beauty. Jenny perfectly expressed her love for Jekyll and her belief in his endeavours, at the same time suggesting the pained concern for his well being. Exceptionally beautiful vocal work rounded off this first class performance. Her equal in characterisation, Zoe Tompkins excelled as Lucy Harris, a victim of the underbelly of Victorian society. Zoe gave a superb performance as Lucy in what was another perfect all-round characterisation. Jekyll/Hyde, Emma and Lucy are the beating heart of the show, central to the exploration of the important themes which run through the narrative and we were blessed with three world beating performances in these crucial roles. Danny Morville and Liz Wood completed the principal line-up as Spider and Nellie, two more powerful performances which brought the Victorian underworld to life.

As the story unfolds, we were graced with a number of effectively staged scenes, chorus numbers and set-pieces, all of which looked and sounded fantastic. The way the video wall was integrated into the show gave the production a seamless and professional edge: more than that, the staging was thoughtfully worked into both the narrative and helped to illuminate the thematic concerns of the piece too. Conjuring up one vivid setting after another, I’d go so far as to say that the staging was a work of genius. The exquisite use of colour in Sir Danvers’ mansion, with perfectly chosen costumes set against the monochrome backdrop, was especially memorable and scenes exploring the metaphorical fog in Jekyll’s mind were given a bewitching physical representation on stage, the pin-sharp lighting plot completing the picture superbly. Jekyll’s laboratory looked the part magnificently and all of the scenes in the show pulled together to become an effective psychodrama, complementing the show’s narrative and thematic concerns in an intelligent way. I wasn’t altogether convinced with the ‘demon eyes’ projections however but I think that’s mainly down to the fact that - as well as being a tad over-literal - they reminded me of the ill-fated ‘New Labour, New Danger’ election poster from the 1997 general election. 

Andrew’s skilful ability to suggest both sides of Jekyll’s psyche resulted in a powerhouse performance of great merit. Establishing Jekyll’s positive motives as the show opened, followed by his defeat at the hands of the Board of Governors - with the company punctuating the two scenes with ‘Facade’ - the thrust of the drama was established quickly and effectively. The two sides of society contrasted well, Sir Danvers’ mansion standing in stark contrast to the world of the Red Rat. Lucy’s underworld was very well realised and Danny Morville added a real sense of danger to the seamy underworld as Spider. ‘Murder, Murder’ provided a whistle stop tour of Hyde’s killing spree, wisely erring on the side of not to making too much of the mordant humour of the song and potentially undermining the belief in the narrative. There were a number of exceptional vocal numbers peppered throughout the evening: ‘In His Eyes’, ‘Someone Like You’, ‘A New Life’, ‘Take me as I am’ and ‘Once Upon a Dream’ were all faultless and impressive numbers with Simon Murray’s orchestra providing a solid musical base throughout the show. I did feel that there were occasions when the chorus seemed to get a little drowned out in some of the company numbers however but never seriously so. Andrew bookended Jekyll’s experiment with two peerless vocal performances: ‘This is the Moment’ starting his ill-fated chemical dabbling, reaching its anguished conclusion with the ‘Confrontation’, Jekyll and Hyde duetting brilliantly from within the same body. 

‘Jekyll and Hyde’ is a flawed show (if Sondheim’s ‘Sweeney Todd has an A Level or two in construction and intent, ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ can barely scrape a GCSE and its denouement is a definite damp squib) but this production polished its shiny surfaces beautifully and the BLOS dinner show experience made for an excellent evening. My thanks go to everyone involved for a wonderful theatrical experience.