Reviewed for Musical Theatre Review:
Fresh from his success at this year’s Olivier Awards, where he won for his thrilling choreography for In The Heights, Drew McOnie’s star is definitively on the ascendancy. Later this year, he will direct the UK premiere of the stage version of Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom. But first, his own dance company makes its West End debut with a reworking of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella of gothic horror.
Relocating the 19th century setting to 1950s London, the staging suggests a city that has its own dualities to deal with: a drab, austere overground sharing space with a vibrant, sensuous underbelly of speakeasies and sex.
Daniel Collins is a weedy, bespectacled botanist who turns to chemical experimentation in an attempt to improve the wares in his flower shop. But when his remarkable new formula mixes with his own blood, his little shop begins to play host to a new set of horrors.
Tim Hodges’ first appearance as Hyde signals that he is everything Collins’s Jekyll is not – muscular, assertive, self-assured. But even as Jekyll begins a tentative romance with the beautiful Dahlia (a graceful Rachel Muldoon), Hyde begins to lose control in ways that seep into his alter ego’s own life.
The duality of personalities are expressed through Grant Olding’s sublime score, with Jekyll’s world full of light brass and orchestral sounds, with melodies and choreography that evoke the spirit of Hollywood’s golden age, and Hyde’s emergences accompanied by distorted electric guitars.
What binds the worlds together is McOnie’s choreography, which is full of humour and character. His ensemble pieces demand a sense of uniformity from his dancers, which they achieve while also retaining the sense of individual characters within – a feat with which more established dance companies sometimes struggle.
Of the principal roles, it is Collins as the nervy, romantic botanist who dominates completely. His solo work as he celebrates the delight of receiving a phone call from Dahlia, or while preparing for his first date, mixes comedy and physical control (masquerading as a lack of the same) in ways that are truly joyous.
His partner dances with Muldoon offer the epitome of the MGM era. Other influences are obvious too: there are strains of Bernstein’s music to West Side Story in Olding’s score at times, and McOnie responds with moves that echo those of Jerome Robbins.
As the murderous Hyde, Hodges gets less of the lyrical work that McOnie excels at choreographing, but the aggression of the character still comes through. Most notable is some work with Ebony Molina’s Ivy, although her character’s bewitchment by Hyde also accentuates the piece’s disparity between how the story treats women and men, the former being in thrall to the latter throughout – thankfully not a fault that extends to the ensemble, which is uniformly excellent.
Soutra Gilmour’s set design, a trio of walls rotating on a central axis to create a variety of rooms, is suitably moody and evocative, but the repeated manhandling of its moving elements by the cast begins to distract after a while. But it is the dancers’ work to which one’s eye is perpetually drawn, and that is generally superb, mixing classical and contemporary elements in ways that echo the entire story’s themes of duality and sublimated desire.
Jekyll & Hyde may be a full two-act dance, but in all elements, it contains more storytelling, greater cohesiveness and more thrilling visuals than most new West End musicals. It feels criminal that this run is so short, ending on Saturday – but it will undoubtedly have a further life in the future. One leaves wanting more from McOnie, and more work like this from the rest of the industry.
Photo by Manuel Harlan. See more production photography in our Jekyll and Hyde gallery