Henry Jekyll is the compassionate doctor who thinks he’s discovered the formula to eradicate evil from humankind; Edward Hyde the monster he becomes. This latest Kenwright production of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson tale is high on melodrama and surprisingly free of camp, and despite a slow start has enough about it to make a rather entertaining evening.
The task falls to former Wet Wet Wet man Marti Pellow to carry it off. And although it gets off to a rather bland and wooden start, eventually the show explodes into a gothic maze of dark and dank London streets, dusty labs, and divine retribution.
It is not until his transformation into the evil Hyde that Pellow starts to inject life into his performance. Yet once this happens, it’s not just his character that undergoes a change. Pellow snaps out of a very self-conscious, very measured turn and just goes for it, and is convincingly devilish. His old pop vocal is generally only recognisable when he goes for the big notes; there’s not a hint of that dazzling rock star grin until he takes his bows.
Through most of the first half, Pellow and Mark McGee as his confidante John seemed to be somewhat carried by Sarah Earnshaw as Jekyll’s strong-willed fiancee Emma, her stage presence clearly overshadowing them both. But once Jekyll became Hyde, our leading man put in a disciplined and hugely enjoyable performance.
It’s pleasing to say that the sound quality under musical director Tom de Keyser was good throughout; the score, although somewhat monotonous at times, sounded clear and added to the grandiose Victoriana of the piece. Jekyll & Hyde is operatic in style and as such big show-stopping numbers are few and far between. It’s the songs that carry the plot and even most dialogue is sung. As already noted, it isn’t until Pellow belts out signature song This Is the Moment – in a deeper and even richer tone than fans might recognise – that he came to life and began to really sell what he was doing.
This means that the second half is much more entertaining than the first, which seemed horribly padded out with dull ballards at times, as Hyde went on a deadly rampage that Jekyll found increasingly hard to control. It was interesting that this wasn’t really played with a bit of British tongue-in-cheek and was actually rather seductive.
Sabrina Carter, as tart-with-a-heart prostitute Lucy, belted out some of the most superb vocals heard in recent times on the Empire stage. The number shared between her and Emma, In His Eyes, played two incredible singing voices off against each other, and thanks to Earnshaw, the show’s dramatic climax was a moving and fitting conclusion to the tale. The show benefited greatly from these two strong female roles.
My companion and I were left puzzled that this production was afforded a majority standing ovation in the stalls, but overall the show overcame its problems to eventually grow into an entertaining and fine-looking piece with some exemplary vocal performances.