For reasons even I can’t comprehend, the Union had been off our radar until last month’s Babes In Arms. We immediately fell in love with the show and with this quirky little venue beneath railway arches in south London. Southwark seems to have become a hothouse for fringe musicals, with the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Playhouse and Unicorn Theatre also mounting top notch productions this year (Pippin, Floyd Collins, Parade) and with plenty more to look forward to (Mack & Mabel, Merrily We Roll Along, The Fix). We love a Sunday matinee, you feel like you get two evenings for the price of one, especially as it’s an excuse to break the embargo on cocktail hour not starting before 5pm. We holed up in the scruffy bar-cum-box office with vodka and tonics and watched as the queue of those anxious to grab the best of the unreserved seats grew ever longer. We were virtually last into the auditorium, but after a very kind gentleman offered to swap, we still got a fine pair of fifth row seats.
With music by Frank Wildhorn and book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, this 1999 musical adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Victorian novel tells the story of a well meaning doctor, Jekyll, who uses himself as a guinea pig for research into split personalities, in the process unleashing his own inner demon in the form of the murderous Mr Hyde.
In a stroke of creative genius, director Luke Fredericks has transposed the action to contemporary London all played out on a well-meant but slightly too ambitious multi-purpose set with great projections and videos, especially effective when showing cctv footage capturing Hyde’s grisly crimes.
Tim Rogers is a dream (and a dreamboat) in the title role(s) switching effortlessly between the earnest bespectacled yet blinkered Jekyll to the ultimate bad boy, evil sensual Hyde. Hyde embarks on a killing spree of the hospital trustees who refused to grant Jekyll permission to experiment on a live patient and Hyde’s persona eventually becomes dominant and self-destructive.
There are two standout performances from the women in Jekyll’s life. Joanna Strand as his fiancée is totally believable as the woman standing by her man in the face of his ever-increasing irrational behaviour. Madalena Alberto as a prostitute befriended by Jekyll on his stag night and later abused by Hyde strikes the right balance as she reveals the inner vulnerability beneath a tough exterior. Both of these women sing the hell out of the score and Alberto’s whorehouse anthem “Bring on the Men” is an early highlight.
If the first act is all Jekyll, the second belongs to Hyde and Tim Rogers flexes his acting and singing muscles to fine effect in both. Rogers is a magnetic leading man and even manages to bring some unselfish tenderness to Hyde in the closing moments, by which time he has all-but consumed Jekyll. Rogers really is another for my "one to watch" list.
With a gripping story, strong cast, a great 5 piece band led by musical director Dean Austin and exceptionally creative direction and musical staging from Luke Fredericks and Adam Murray, this kept me enthralled throughout.
The only negative for me is the actual score. Individually I am sure the slow to mid-paced melodramatic songs work well, but to my ears, “Bring on the Men” excepted, they all seem to stay at one level both musically and emotionally, eventually all blurring into each other. None of this detracts from the terrific production that this undoubtedly is, I could just do with a little more aural light and shade from Mr Wildhorn.
Booking until 16 June 2012, a terrific production of a slightly disappointing show - Jekyll and Hyde