When Daniel Collins appears on stage in his flower shop, he is gawky, bespectacled, the ultimate geek. He’s not unlike Clark Kent before he undergoes his transformation into Superman. Of course, the transformation about to take place here is very different. Because Daniel Collins is playing Jekyll in Drew McOnie’s dance production of Jekyll & Hyde at the Old Vic for a limited run.
This is not, though, what you would expect either from a conventional ballet or contemporary dance. McOnie’s background is much more musical theatre (Oklahoma!, West Side Story, Chicago) and it shows. This is a production of breathtaking energy from the dancers and cool ‘50s style music from the composer Grant Olding who switches easily between cool jazz and rock’n’roll, big band and waltzes.
Fifties? Yes – one of the updates in this production is a move to swirling circular skirts in Day-Glo colours, telephones with cords and more than the occasional nod to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, West Side Story and American in Paris, including plenty of fire escape action on a mobile set that is almost a dancer itself.
The other big change is the addition of a love story. Jekyll is the kind of guy who gets sand kicked in his face on the beach. He’s surrounded by hunks who work out in a boxing club and girls who don’t give him a second glance – until Dahlia (Rachel Muldoon) comes into his shop to buy some flowers. A romance begins to blossom and, at the same time so does business. Jekyll has invented a potion that turns his rather dreary plants into super-blooms in dazzling colours and apparently addictive qualities. (Plenty of nods also to Little Shop of Horrors.)
At the local dance hall, though, Jekyll is mocked by the hunks, chief among them Charlie who seems to be stealing his girl, and he goes home humiliated. From here, of course, it’s all predictably downhill (well, we do know the story, after all). He tries his plant potion on himself and turns into Hyde, taller, stronger – and a psychopath. This transformation scene and the many that follow are a masterstroke, the two men (Hyde is Tim Hodges) wrestle under strobe lighting until one has disappeared and the other emerges centre stage and triumphant. Hodges is superbly cold, controlled and menacing and sets off back to the dance hall where he first catches the eye of the local siren, Ivy (a thrilling Ebony Molina) and later dispatches Charlie with a shockingly adept broken neck.
As Hyde becomes the stronger partner, Jekyll cannot predict when the transformations will happen and they become more agonising and uncontrollable when they do. A trail of deaths follow. Romance, though, is still in the air for Jekyll and in a duet with Daisy, worthy of Gene Kelly at his goofiest, the innocent, insouciant charm of the Fifties plays out at its most delightful. It makes the denouement, just minutes later, all the more chilling. Jekyll no longer needs Hyde to kill and, in a deft stroke, when he fatally wounds his rival self in their final clash, it is Jekyll who bleeds.
This is a comparatively short two acter (just over an hour and a half) but a compelling piece of story telling with strong characterisation from the dancers who handle comedy and menace with equal assurance. The dancing throughout is superb with some dazzling ensemble work that needs split second timing. The audience whooped with enthusiasm as the curtain fell. I’m not at all surprised.
The McOnie Company’s Jekyll & Hyde at the Old Vic until Saturday 28th May 2016. Running time 1 hour 50 minutes including one interval. Production images by Manuel Harlan. For more information and tickets visit the website.