Jekyll & Hyde | Theatre Review
Grand Opera House. Belfast • By Conor O’Neill
Robert Louis Stevenson aficionados and purists will either embrace this musical adaptation with adoring open arms, or run from the theatre screaming ‘blasphemy, blasphemy!’ at the top of their lungs. I rank the novella to be in my top five favourite books and grinned my way out of Belfast’s Grand Opera House with a night to remember safely tucked under my belt and a stirring of the soul only brilliance can bring. Exaggerate much? Get yourself to this show and I dare you to disagree?
The main components are here; it would be folly to run too far from the original. Jekyll is a man of science bound by curiosity and altruistic well meaning, hoping he can find a cure for the Victorian scourges of the London slums. Scene one sees him in front of the Board of Governors of St Jude’s, vying to get his ethically questionable experiments approved by a majority vote. Setting the musical up from the off is proposition 929 being denounced and with that Jekyll must go it alone; his main detractor being the Bishop of Basingstoke who, it turns out, worships more than just the word of God.
Bequeathed to be married in six weeks to the charming Emma, Jekyll throws himself into his work and adds layers and layers to Stevenson’s original. Whores, blaggards, high society flops, rape, multiple murders, suicide and deception, paranoia, the duality of man, class division, love and the ethics of the misdirected all play their part.
As for the acting and singing, they are both simply second to none. Jekyll and Hyde, both played by award winning Karl McGuckin, moves from the benevolence of Jekyll and his soothing baritone to the menacing boom bass and growl of his wicked invention. So much is achieved with so little as a tearing off of a hairband and the throwing on of a hulking tattered coat moves the upstanding Jekyll to the curiously appealing threat of the sinister Hyde. Joff Manning’s Utterson, the narrator of the original novel, is pivotal as the moral compass that keeps the show on an even keel trying to bring reason to madness and mayhem.
The two leading females don’t disappoint either. Bride to be Emma Carew is played with an innocence and purity that must rate Alice Johnston as one of the best in the business. While Johnston’s character is subdued and can be imagined idling her days away with needlework and high teas, Emma Martin’s half heroine, half tart with a heart brings balls to almost every scene she appears in. And to think she’s only 18-years-old and still studying for her A levels; going by tonight’s performance you’d think she’d been strutting and swooning the stage for decades. The rest of the main cast all deliver excellence at every turn to boot, and the ensemble, of which I found hard to count, move with seamless coherence.
At heart it is a musical, and I could go on forever on how the 20 musicians, led by musical director Colin Scott, imbue every scene with everything from high drama and thundering crescendos to the twinkles of harpsichord to the shoulder relaxing soft spoken string section. With the orchestra in the pit I can only imagine what it must be like to be acting and singing above such precision. If a fault must be found, I did hear some mumblings during the interval that at times the music dwarfed the volume of the vocals, but overall I can’t complain.
Belfast Operatic Company have outdone themselves this year. The standing ovations went on for so long and with such severity I predict chemists all over Belfast will see a run on Savlon cream in the morning as aching hands feel their way back to normality. Top musical theatre, c’mon, over 700 people can’t be wrong!
Jekyll & Hyde runs until Saturday, 08 April For booking details visit www.goh.co.uk or phone the box office on 02890 241919