After the ghastly DOCTOR FAUSTUS it was with some trepidation that I went to the Old Vic to see Drew McOnie's JEKYLL & HYDE, the first ballet to be staged there in awhile. The theatre holds a very special place in British ballet history as in 1925 Lilian Baylis, the legendary owner of the Old Vic, offered the Irish-born dancer Ninette de Valois the chance to not only choreograph their straight plays but also to stage ballets there and in her other theatre, Sadler's Wells. This eventually led to the formation of what would become the Royal Ballet, the Royal Ballet School and the Birmingham Royal Ballet.
Drew McOnie has become an award-winning choreographer after a career as a dancer and with JEKYLL & HYDE is staking a claim as 'the new' Matthew Bourne, who McOnie is a former company member. Like Bourne, McOnie is dividing his work between choreographing musicals and his own narrative ballets and JEKYLL & HYDE resembles Bourne's work in that it sifts it's dramatic moments with dashes of humour.
McOnie has updated Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale to the 1950s and Grant Olding matches this in his score which has echoes of the cool jazz style of Dave Brubeck. McOnie has also done an odd rewrite so the gentlemanly Jekyll works as a florist by the day and a geek scientist at night. All this did was make it feel at times like it was a ballet version of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.
Jekyll falls in love with the willowy Dahlia who is also loved by the thuggish Charlie but all this changes when the suave and dangerous Hyde appears. Also falling under Hyde's spell are a sexy couple he meets in a club - McOnie tends to let the 50s vibe slip in these scenes which seem to be set in a very contemporary world. However while Jekyll chases Dahlia, he fails to notice his shop assistant Daisy who is quietly pining away for him. Needless to say by the end of the piece the body count almost matches HAMLET.
I enjoyed JEKYLL & HYDE but there were times when it's swinging, breezy jazz score allied to a curdling whimsy tended to swamp the more sombre moments of the story. It's 1950s setting gives McOnie the chance to draw from the MGM musical era for his Jekyll-Dahlia choreography and at times his 'homages' were a bit too obvious. I really felt on reflection that we needed to see more of Mr Hyde than was allotted in the scenario, the story should feel like a seesaw between good and evil and we seemed to spend too much time in the sun.
What is most exciting about the production is the marvellous company that McOnie has assembled and who all deliver fine individual performances while at the same time working as a dynamic ensemble. The excellent Danny Collins - late of SHOW BOAT - shines as Jekyll as he bounces and boings all over the stage, seemingly going in two places at the same time and deploying a warm, winning charm that makes you want Jekyll to win his schizophrenic battle with his alter ego. Hyde was danced by Jason Winter in an imposing manner but without much personality or real sense of danger.
There was excellent work from Barnaby Thompson and Ebony Molina as the couple who sexually tangle with Hyde, Molina in particular was wonderfully seductive and exuded a earthy sensuality. The two women in Jekyll's life were danced by the elegant Rachel Muldoon as his dream date Dahlia while Alexzandra Sarmiento was a delight as shopgirl Daisy.
After bemoaning the cramped and ugly set she designed for DOCTOR FAUSTUS, here Soutra Gilmour gave McOnie's production a simple but very clever metal central frame with four mesh walls which quickly and effectively rotated to transform the scene from shop to workroom to club. Richard Howell's lighting design was excellent, suggesting the changing moods within the story with style.
With a running time of an hour 50 minutes it didn't outstay it's welcome and I would be happy to see it again should it return to the West End. If the cheers that greeted the company at their curtain call prove anything it's that Old Vic artistic director Matthew Warchus should find room for it in his coming season and possibly give it a longer run than it's current week-long residency.