Review: The McOnie Company - Jekyll & Hyde - Old Vic

Performance: 24 - 28 May 2016
Reviewed by Siobhan Murphy - Friday 27 May 2016

'Jekyll & Hyde' -  Daniel Collins (Dr Jekyll) & Rachel Muldoon (Dahlia) - The Old Vic. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Victorian gothic seems to be the flavour of the dance season. The Royal Ballet’s Frankenstein lurches on at Covent Garden; next week Northern Ballet brings its Jane Eyre to Richmond Theatre. Meanwhile, the Old Vic’s artistic director, Matthew Warchus, who has decided to revive the theatre’s long-lost tradition of staging dance, has let the choreographer Drew McOnie loose on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of split personality, and good and evil.

In truth, Jekyll & Hyde shares very little in common with the famous novella; the primary source struggles to compete amid a sea of gaudy pop-culture references, most prominently a rather dubious attempt to update the tale to the 1950s. McOnie (who picked up the Olivier award for Best Theatre Choreographer ealier this year for In The Heights) was under the wing of Matthew Bourne for much of his dance career and so, perhaps inevitably, when faced with creating a full-length narrative dance show, he has gone for pizzazz and populism. The choreography is all Hollywood musical-style grand gestures and chorus-line fillers as it lays out the story of Dr Jekyll (Daniel Collins), now a weedy bespectacled florist, who invents a potion to improve his lacklustre blooms only to discover that inhaling and/or drinking it unleashes his inner beast. It’s all a bit Little Shop of Horrors, for no discernible reason, but Collins is good at playing up the comic appeal of Jekyll – with his shyly inept attempts at wooing Rachel Muldoon’s Dahlia and his bandy-legged jiving.

Mr Hyde, his strapping evil alter-ego, is played by Tim Hodges, who first appears stepping out of the shower in the buff. There’s a lot of flesh-flashing in Jekyll & Hyde; the general theory seems to be, much as in the overblown Argentine tango shows that land in London fairly regularly, the more often dancers can strip to their undies and gyrate, the better. There are lashings of sex and violence, and violent sex, here, as the increasingly dominant Hyde goes distinctly American Psycho. Soutra’s Gilmour’s metal-framed revolving set – looking appropriately run-down-Victorian-industrial – is soon spinning so hard you’re in danger of feeling giddy. And to dispel any doubts about when we’ve reached a dramatic moment, another rule of thumb seems to be, ramp the music up. Grant Olding’s score swings rather wildly from 1950s pastiche (which feels increasingly grating as the story darkens) to incongruous new-wavey guitar squalls for Hyde’s rampages. The dancers work incredibly hard to keep up the breakneck tempo; in fact, they throw themselves so vigorously into the routines that occasionally things can look a little ragged around the edges. But then we’re all feeling battered and bruised by the end.

Jekyll & Hyde is never subtle – but peeking from behind its brashness are some rather good ideas. As the deadly dance between Jekyll and Hyde gets more intense, Collins and Hodges’s strobe-lit tussles really convey the fight for sanity. There’s a creeping, creepy suggestion that Hyde could be all in Jekyll’s head (cf Fight Club) as increasingly unnerving (and unclad) dream sequences mess with perceptions. But you’re left with the distinct impression that the possibilities of Jekyll & Hyde have been fairly comprehensively squandered.

Continues to Saturday 27 May

Siobhan Murphy is a freelance writer and editor, who also contributes to Dancetabs and Time Out. Twitter @blacktigerlily

Photos: Manuel Harlan

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