Bill Kenwright’s production of Jekyll & Hyde has proven, as Robert Louis Stevenson did in his 1886 novella, that life is simply an internalised conflict of good and evil. Like Dr. Jekyll in his laboratory, the production grapples with its own fine material, severing and slicing the macabre plot and wrenching pathos at the heart of the classic story and turning out a pantomime of Victorian London.
Frank Wildhorn’s score is pleasing and lithe, aiming for the witty melancholia of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and landing altogether closer to Oklahoma!. Whilst some of Leslie Bricusse’s lyrics jar with schmaltzy sentimentality, the show’s numbers soar with a lot of heart and a lot of blood, realising the decadence of the upper-class salon scene and the squalor of the whorehouse with colour and humour.
Like Henry Jeykll’s risky experimentations, the stunt casting of Marti Pellow has gone horribly wrong. Mumbling, static and asthmatically breathless, Pellow fails to connect with either the virtue of Jekyll or the villainy of Hyde. The honourable doctor’s infamous transformation into his monstrous alter-ego lacks drama, suspense or spectacle: indeed, Pellow’s stifled efforts at characterisation stretch no further than whipping out a hairpin and flicking down a ridiculous strand of hair which might have escaped from Victoria Beckham’s wig box.
As Lucy the East End prostitute, Sabrina Carter is undoubtedly the star of this rather lamentable production. Sparkling like a mug of gin amongst the many deviants of The Spider’s Web, Carter shines with a hopeless optimism and commanding sexuality. Sarah Earnshaw, too, plays the role of Jekyll’s fiancée Emma with an assertive confidence seldom afforded to the character and, along with Carter, prove a necessary antidote to the evening’s disappointment.
Perhaps with reformulation and distillation, Jekyll & Hyde could be the potently sinister moral which Stevenson imagined, bubbling with Gothic horror and burning rich reds with sexual tension. Despite a strong supporting cast, the fatal element at its centre threatens to pulls the production down to little more than a penny dreadful