Spectacular Singing and Gorgeous Lighting Make up for a Baffling Plot in ‘Jekyll and Hyde’

Callisto reviews the Musical Theatre Society’s production of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’.

Every year, the eternally-weary Musical Theatre Society committee must sift through potential productions, desperate to find the diamond in the rough: a show that has the name recognition to fill the Byre Theatre, but is still obscure enough to be cheap. This year, the committee opted for Jekyll and Hyde, a little-known musical adaptation of the much more famous novella. As every first-year English student at St Andrews is assigned Jekyll and Hyde (and, since they’re still bright-eyed and enthusiastic at that stage, they might actually read it), this seems like a practical choice at first glance. Unfortunately, since every English student at St Andrews – including yours truly – also knows the plot of Jekyll and Hyde, it strips very bare the oddities of the script presented. Thankfully, strong performances from the actors and impeccable lighting design help make up for what might be one of the weakest musical theatre books to ever grace the Byre stage, at least in the past few months.

To be fair to the writers, Jekyll and Hyde is a difficult story to adapt in this day and age, simply because everyone knows the final plot twist: that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person. Unfortunately, the avenue they’ve chosen to get around this obstacle — adding women for romantic intrigue — is as ham-fisted into the narrative as it can possibly be. On one side is a strange rip-off of The Phantom of the Opera starring a prostitute with a heart of gold (clap if you’ve seen this one before), and the other has a Nice Young Girl who’s just rebellious enough for the audience to like her, who, with one line, unleashes The Power of Love and redeems Jekyll. These plotlines make no more sense when you’re actually seeing the show. The scenes based on material actually covered in the novel, while not astronomically better, are more tolerable: much like a certain fantasy programme based on a permanently unfinished series of books, things go off the rails as soon as they run out of material to adapt.

 

Source: Louise Anderbjörk (Atlas Camera) for Jekyll and Hyde.

Thankfully, the music is nowhere as bad as the plot, and the actors handle a mostly sung-through script with ease. Jasmine Williams and Amy Dunn (Lucy and Emma, respectively) make up for playing the world’s most contrived characters by wowing with every one of their songs — there’s a wonderful duet between the two where their voices melt into each other’s, and even the Phantom rip-off sounds amazing (though admittedly, it’s hard to ruin Phantom). The rest of the ensemble have strong voices: the opening of act two sounds especially good. And of course, James McNinch’s performance as Jekyll and Hyde is made even better thanks to his fluctuation in mannerisms as he switches between characters. McNinch is truly believable as both (though the removal of glasses and the addition of a trench coat do wonders to assist him), and the final confrontation scene has him switching between the two characters at a nail-biting pace. Anyone who has used TikTok within the past few years will likely recognise Hyde’s theme, and McNinch sings it well, even if his voice never quite reaches the complete desperation the character should be spiralling towards. There are several other moments across the show when the acting doesn’t quite hit the mark — one key takeaway is that St Andrews theatre kids are quite bad at playing prostitutes.

 

Source: Louise Anderbjörk (Atlas Camera) for Jekyll and Hyde.

Such dramatic scenes are enhanced by spectacular lighting, helped by copious use of the smoke machine (even if it threatens to choke both the actors and the audience). Shona M’Gadzah has created a lighting design nothing short of spectacular; one dynamic enough to feel like a character of its own. Even the minor songs have a beautiful and complicated system of spotlights, while the transformation scenes made me feel like I was watching the drag show at Glitterball. The murder scenes were another standout, helped by the light’s perfect adherence to the music. The crispness and beauty of this aspect of production design elevate the show to another level, making it one of the most memorable pieces of stagecraft this academic year.

 

Source: Louise Anderbjörk (Atlas Camera) for Jekyll and Hyde.

I’ll admit, as soon as I figured out where the plot was going to go, I was determined to hate Jekyll and Hyde: I didn’t read endless academic papers about the repressed homosexual undertones of the novella to watch Henry Jekyll fall for a woman (the horror). Yet, as soon at the moment of the first transformation, when the lights started to pulse and spin and McNinch’s demeanour transformed, I was hooked. If you can turn your brain off and simply enjoy the spectacle, Jekyll and Hyde is a phenomenal piece of theatre—not unlike certain other highly-lauded musicals (cough cough Cats). I will end with one final critique: the musical does not include one of my favourite ever lines written in a book—‘If he be Mr. Hyde, I shall be Mr. Seek’. Criminal.

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