Review – Jekyll and Hyde, The McOnie Company, Old Vic, 28th May 2016

Jekyll and HydeThe Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has come a long way since its first appearance as Robert Louis Stevenson’s celebrated novella back in 1886. Several films, a musical, a play, TV series, even video games have all taken their inspiration from that original story about the decent everyman character who cannot control his evil side. Even if you haven’t read it – and I expect precious few of us have, I certainly haven’t – everyone knows the premise and everyone will have, at some time or other, have had reason to refer to someone as “a bit Jekyll and Hyde”.

Old VicIt’s excellent news for dance lovers that the Old Vic have decided to bring dance back to their regular drama seasons in their beautiful traditional theatre. And I can think of no choreographer better than Drew McOnie to bring a big, punchy story-based dance to the London Stage. He’s the next generation’s Sir Matthew Bourne. One of the reasons why I wasn’t wowed on the recent touring production of Chicago was that it lacked Mr McOnie’s choreographic deftness that we had seen in hisDanny Collins and Rachel Muldoo Leicester version of the show. He can bring magic to an old favourite, such as Oklahoma, or create something completely original like Drunk. I’m still to see In The Heights, I expect that will be amazing too. So when I realised that he was creating a dance version of Jekyll and Hyde I knew it was a Must See.

Ebony Molina and Jason WinterAnd, boy, was I right. It’s an immense production. The set is extraordinary, the costumes are evocative, and the lighting is sensational, with some of the best use of strobe you’ll see in ages. There’s an intricate array of props that really provide detail to the scenes, like all the stock in Jekyll’s flower shop or all the potions and chemicals in his laboratory. Grant Olding’s soaring score is passionate and evocative, combining dozens of different rhythms and moods, perfect for accompanying the range of scenes from high comedy, through Hollywood glamour to Grand Guignol. The overall effect is an assault on the senses and the feeling that you are watching something on a huge scale. It was that marvellous sense of being delightfully overwhelmed.

EnsembleThe show has some really big dramatic moments and the combination of top choreography and exciting music means that they work incredibly well. The first time that Jekyll turns into Hyde really spooks you. Jekyll nips into the shower and you think this might become a slightly saucy comedy moment, but as his jaunty cheery music gets gradually taken over by Hyde’s serious heavy metal, you realise that the man also has been taken over, but by someone with evil on their mind. It’s a brilliant idea to have two dancers play the roles, rather than have one try to encapsulate both sides of the character; the visible difference between the two dancers makes the differences between the two characters much stronger. All the murders that Hyde commits are really powerful dance/drama moments; chillingly executed (literally) by both Hyde and the production. And there’s a very effective nod to the aforementioned Sir Matthew Bourne in the final scene, where all the characters crawl out of the woodwork at Jekyll’s lab (just like the swans do from the headboard in Swan Lake).

spookyBut the stand-out aspect of the piece for me was its extraordinarily clear storytelling. Dance can beguile you with its mystery, its deliberate ambiguity, and with just a suggestion of narrative leaving you to fill in the gaps. That’s fine – I really enjoy that challenge. But with Jekyll and Hyde Mr McOnie has made the narrative as clear as daylight. And by that, I don’t mean it’s one-dimensional or “easy”; I mean that it’s a strong story with rewarding plot development that unfolds naturally and for the benefit and entertainment of the audience. This also helps you to identify with the characters – to will them on, to empathise with them, to keep your fingers crossed that they will survive unscathed – even though you know this is a forlorn hope. You couldn’t fail to identify with the character of Jekyll, as his emotions are all laid bare by Mr McOnie’s dramatic choreography.

Tim HodgesBut that’s only part of Jekyll’s magic. I’d seen Danny Collins in Drunk, and Show Boat, and thought he was a great dancer. However, this role has taken him to a new level. Within literally seconds of the show starting I knew that he was going to make a truly stunning impact. I can’t dance but I would have thought it was an extraordinarily demanding role. His athleticism combined with his characterisation is superb. He dances in love, he dances in fear; he dances with cheeky humour, he dances facing intimidation and threat; he dances facing death and destruction. For me it was one of the finest dance performances I’ve ever seen.

Jekyll and DahliaTim Hodges is perfect for the other side of his character, the malevolent and selfish Mr Hyde. He really conveys the delight with which Hyde goes on his sprees, and whenever Mr Collins goes out and Mr Hodges reappears you get a real frisson of horror. The swap-round moments where Jekyll becomes Hyde are brilliantly realised all the way through; and I also really loved Mr Hodges’ interactions with Ebony Molina’s incredibly expressive Ivy, including his dramatic launch on the bed from way on high!

Ivy and CharlieI particularly enjoyed the performance of Alexzandra Sarmiento as Daisy, who has a fantastic I’m happy to be dancing in a flower shop solo, full of genuine joy and optimism, which makes the character’s ultimate demise even more affecting. After Hyde has run riot, Miss Sarmiento is extraordinarily good at playing dead! Anabel Kutay, as always, delivers both comic and serious with her inimitable sensual style, Rachel Muldoon conveyed all Dahlia’s growing affection for Jekyll with great sincerity and class, and Jason Winter was a terrifically bullying Charlie (whose come-uppance was fantastically dramatic). But the whole cast are amazing and give such strong, committed performances so that there’s never a down moment or a misplaced foot.

DancingI’ll be honest – I thought the constant scene changes, though accurately and seamlessly achieved, slightly got in the way of the dancing, sometimes creating an unwanted interruption to the action, rather than enhancing the performance. But this is a comparatively minor quibble. The show had such a brief run at the Old Vic for this superb production – surely it deserves a life somewhere after this? If you were lucky enough to see it, cherish those memories! If you didn’t see it – you definitely should be kicking yourselves!

Production photos by Manuel Harlan

Review – Drunk, McOnie Company – revisited – Bridewell Theatre, 8th February 2014

Gemma SuttonI was lucky enough to see the McOnie Company’s new show Drunk on its first preview night in Leicester, but as Mrs Chrisparkle spent that night in New Jersey, training American and British colleagues on the art of how not to rub each other up the wrong way, it was a case of “Dance for One”. But when she read my blog about what a great show it was, she announced that she too would like to see for herself what all the fuss was about. Thus it was that last Saturday evening we walked along the Strand and crossed that boundary into the No Man’s Land that is Fleet Street after dark, hung a right into Bride Lane, walked the wrong way around the church and eventually found the little Bridewell theatre.

Simon HardwickIt’s a neat little place, with a very welcoming bar that serves nice red wine, and I thought it was a friendly touch that a lady came round all the tables in the bar asking if we wanted to buy a programme. I had already decided that I wouldn’t need another one, as I still had my programme from Leicester, less than two weeks previously. But I can’t resist a fresh programme, so, much to the scoffing of Mrs C, I parted with my two quid; and I’m glad I did, as the new programme has much more information in it, including (what a 21st century world this is), the twitter addresses for all the cast, creative team and band. There are no reserved seats at the Bridewell; you just pile in and grab the best one you can. A word of warning; don’t do as I did, and expect the email which you have printed off as your e-ticket to magically gain you entrance to the auditorium – you have to present it to the box office first and swap it for tickets, which the door staff then take off you. Not realising that led to our losing our place in the queue with my subsequent brief but tangible annoyance that others, who were behind us, were nicking all the best seats. I shouldn’t have worried though, because the Bridewell is a neat and compact venue, and even if you are sitting at the outer edges of the rows you still get a very good view of the action.

Lucinda LawrenceIf you’ve not seen the show before and want to know what it’s all about, may I refer you to my previous blog – just go back a couple of paragraphs and click on the link. It’s always fascinating to see a show a second time; to notice if there are any changes, maybe things you missed the first time, things that are better, or worse, than you remember. That for me is the absolute magic about live entertainment – no two performances are ever identical. And whilst I don’t think there are any significant differences, there were some aspects that I’d overlooked in my first review.

Katy LowenhoffI’d forgotten the brilliant first solo dance, when Daniel Collins’ Martini first shows up, all swagger and swank, and acting as though he owns the place. Gemma Sutton’s Ice thinks she’s really landed on her feet with this hot new date, but then, isn’t it always the way, he’s actually meeting someone else…and someone else… well, Martini is a very versatile drink, after all. It’s a really funny and sophisticated routine, which tells its own mini-epic story in the space of a few minutes.

Fela LufadejuI also appreciated much more this time the scene when we are introduced to Ice’s first boyfriend. He was her Adam, and no doubt she was his Eve; but it was he who tempted her with the apple, and I guess cider is many people’s first experience with drink. It’s a beautiful scene between Miss Sutton and Simon Hardwick – fresh and innocent, cheeky and loving, and very touching. When she decides that she’s had enough of first love and needs to move on, his sense of rejection is very moving. Looking back, you wonder if she really made the right decision that day.

Daniel CollinsAnabel Kutay’s Absinthe seems sexier than ever with her studied slow pouring of her intoxicating liquid down everyone’s helplessly open mouths – there’s no doubt who’s in charge of dishing out hangovers here. The Pimms party of four toffs out on their jolly rampage is still, for me, the funniest scene; and I was very taken by Lucinda Lawrence’s paparazzi’d star Vodka, like a Russian Norma Desmond, languishing at the bar, bedecked in ermine, alluring yet aloof. The Scotch and Rum scene is sensitively and beautifully done; this love story between two American soldiers in 1943 starts with a rolled up note stuffed in a bottle, such as you might find drifting on to a desert island beach and ends with the knowledge that only one of them survived the war. The superbly tender performances of Ashley Andrews and Fela Lufadeju quite bring a lump to the throat.

Ashley AndrewsFinally, I love the cheery and generous curtain call, with each cast member introducing another cast member; and the final exit from the stage, the cast hungover after 80 minutes of hedonism, helps us back into the real world too. As they slope off, from our seats on the side you hear them fantasising about getting cheesy chips on the way home, and you think, “that’s not such a bad idea”…

Anabel KutayI was already sold on the show, but what did Mrs C think? I could tell she loved it, from the way she leaned forward throughout the whole performance, in that body language expression that betrays how involved you are with what’s on stage. We both feel that Drew McOnie has got a real winner on his hands here; with its innovative combination of theatre and dance, he’s created something really special. It’s on till March 1st at the Bridewell but surely it must have some future life afterwards? No matter what, it’s a must-see whether you love dance or drama.

Review – Drunk, McOnie Company, Leicester Curve Studio, 28th January 2014

DrunkDrew McOnie’s Drunk. No, that’s not a criticism, it’s an exciting and vivacious evening of music and dance that had its first airing last Tuesday at the Leicester Curve. It was only a month ago that I saw his stage work for the first time in the raunchy and inventive Chicago, at the very same theatre. Now he has launched his own dance company with a new show, the exhilarating and cheery Drunk; 80 minutes of fast, frenetic, funny and fabulous choreography interspersed with the story of how “Ice” spent her evening, waiting for a date and recollecting ex-lovers by means of Grant Olding’s wistful and witty songs.

Gemma SuttonWhilst Ice (Miss Gemma Sutton on terrific vocal form) is hanging expectantly round the bar, she encounters various customers who all take on the mantle of representing various drinks. Scotch, Martini, cider, Absinthe, vodka, champagne and rum, all get a mention in the programme but I reckon there were quite a few others there who turned up at the bar with the intention of getting smashed. Ice herself is somewhat slow to nail her drink colours to the mast, and with the others all demanding to know what she wants to order, the pressure is on – and she can’t decide. It’s as though her senses are assaulted by the huge variety of alcoholic choices; confronted by an overload of optics one might say. Surprisingly, Ice isn’t a great mixer;Anabel Kutay I guess when the heat is on she tends to water down the contents a bit. Thus she looks horrified when getting coerced into a dance routine by those reckless spirits cavorting around her, although she soon gets the hang of it. As each digestif gets digested, she starts to loosen up, and as the evening comes to an end, she finally melts and makes her choice.

Ashley AndrewsFrom my position in the front row of the Curve Studio last Tuesday, I felt a tremendous impact from the show. It’s like a waft of pleasure that just hits you direct from the stage. The set is simple but effective. You’re in a nightclub, with the wonderful band amassed on the other side of the bar, who create a fantastically sophisticated sound that incorporates jazz and swing, with elements of musical theatre; in fact, the score contains a wide variety of musical influences and absolutely calls out for a cast album to be made. Along the bar counter are enticingly shaped frosted glasses and bottles that the dancers will later take to both their mouths and their hearts; apart from that there are just a couple of stylised box seats scattered around and an empty stage for the eight superb performers to fill. The majority of the costumes are in various shades ofSimon Hardwick grey and white, which look classy and elegant by themselves and then take on the livelier colours of whatever light is being projected on to them, creating an almost chameleon effect. The whole thing is a cunning combination of classiness and self-indulgence; in a nutshell, it all looks and sounds gorgeous.

Katy LowenhoffThe real impact though is from the incredibly lively and strong dancing. These eight performers really know the meaning of entertainment. At close range, you can see so clearly the huge effort and stamina required for them to do what they do, and I am full of admiration. I don’t know how collaborative the choreographic process is – very, I expect – because each dancer seems to have their own particular moves or styles at which they excel and which form a major part of their contribution to the show; for example no one does slinky sexy quite like Miss Anabel Kutay, and no one does athletic high kicks quite like Mr Ashley Andrews, and both of them have great routines that encourage them to dig deep and absolutely perform their socks off.

Daniel CollinsWhat sets this show apart from many other excellent dance pieces is its clear narrative, as expressed through the songs, rather than being a group of scenes each with equal abstract weight from which you assemble your own interpretation of what’s going on. That’s what makes it feel more like a one-act play, enhanced with music and dancing, instead of simply a piece of contemporary dance. It has the “one woman’s journey” element of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tell Me on a Sunday, but with those great moves to accompany it, it’s a lot more entertaining.

Lucinda LawrenceThe whole show flows beautifully from scene to scene, and each scene generates its own humour or pathos as well as its superb dancing; but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my favourite moments. I loved the humour and choreography of the opening routine where all the dancers start chatting up their chosen drinks and the “drinkies” themselves start to respond back, so that they end up almost making love to each other. The thought of Mr Simon Hardwick’s slightly shocked response to his bottle snuggling up to him (“oh, that’s a bit intimate”) still makes me laugh. Another highlight was Miss Katy Lowenhoff’s glittering (literally) appearance as Champagne, the belle of the bar, whizzing about in an appropriately bubbly fashion, whilst everyone else was singing from their pompous wine tasting notes. But perhaps the funniest sequence featured Messrs Andrews, Collins, and Misses Kutay and Lawrence as four posh sporty types, chukka-ing their polo ponies and getting down to some very close quarters rowing. It had the audience in hysterics.

Fela LufadejuDrunk has a very grown-up feel to it, and it doesn’t shy away from a number of adult themes, which absolutely proves that top-quality dance is probably the most expressive form of theatre you can see. In productions like this, you don’t need words to be eloquent. It was one of those shows where you came away at the end a better person than the one you went in as. I sense this new show is going to make a big impression on the dance world, and it was a privilege to be part of its first ever audience. There’s only a handful of seats left for Saturday’s performance at the Curve, but it’s going on for a month’s season at the Bridewell theatre in London in February. Really tempted to go again!