Murder, lust, mental derangement... and more murder. It’s not your usual recipe for a stage musical, but that’s what you get with “Jekyll and Hyde”.
And if Clitheroe Parish Church Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society were somewhat nervous about whether this show would pull in the crowds or put off their regulars, they needn’t have worried, for it’s an absolute stormer.
Musically, it’s modern – from 1990 – and verging on the operatic, with echoes of “Phantom”, “Les Mis” and even hints of Disney (yes, honestly) with some lovely melodies contrasting with the tough and abrasive chorus numbers.
The opening scene, in a dimly lit old asylum with clanging and shrieking noises, heralds something unsettling and scary in the offing, but there is much more to this show than the stage equivalent of a shock-horror slasher movie,
Forget, if you will, those old black-and-white horror movies you may have seen, with all that grotesque face-pulling and bizarre make-up. This musical adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novella is true to the author’s original portrayal of the good and evil in human nature, and what can happen when one individual tries to play God.
Dr Henry Jekyll is the idealistic and well-intentioned young doctor at a mental asylum, who wants to isolate and contain the evil side of human nature so that the good side can prevail.
When the recalcitrant hospital governors refuse him permission to experiment on a patient, Jekyll uses himself as a human guinea pig, taking his own potion and releasing his evil alter-ego in the form of the vengeful Edward Hyde.
Then the killings begin, although one can’t help thinking that most of the victims deserve it to punish their hypocrisy.
Peter Norris, a newcomer to the Clitheroe society, immerses himself into the famous dual role with passion and sensitivity, avoiding the trap of melodramatic over-acting.
He has a tremendous singing voice, and with his opening song “Lost in the Darkness”, sung to Jekyll’s dying father, Norris establishes the good doctor as a thoughtful and sympathetic character.
The audience shares Jekyll’s frustration over his thwarted ambitions, and the build-up to his transformation scene, in the show’s best-known song “This Is The Moment,” is a show-stopper. To transform from Jekyll to Hyde, the only tool he needs is a neat pony-tail that with one flick becomes a wild mane; the rest is in his voice, his facial expressions and his body language, all executed with great professionalism. It’s a tour de force. Equally up to the challenge of a demanding role is Katie Cowburn as Lucy, the young “hostess” at The Red Rat bordello, who finds solace with Jekyll and a fatal fascination with Hyde. With magnetic stage presence, she is feisty and insolent, especially when belting out the raunchy female chorus number “Bring on the Men,” yet becomes like a hunted animal when her plight gets out of her control.
The scene where she meets her inevitable fate at Hyde’s hands is genuinely shocking.
The other woman in Jekyll’s life, his fiancée Emma, is not a hapless bystander but a strong-willed young lady willing to risk all for the man she loves, and the role is a splendid showcase for the excellent operatic voice of Laura Corney.
The leading ladies’ duet “In His Eyes” is a highlight of the show, as is the beautifully harmonised quartet “His Work and Nothing More” by Jekyll and Emma with Emma’s father Sir Danvers (Robin Knipe) and Jekyll’s loyal friend Utterson (David Hulme).
In some shows you see, the chorus members can tend to be passengers, but not here. There are the immaculately dressed toffs, looking down with disdain on the ragged and dirty underclass, and both groups firmly establish their characters, glaring straight out at the audience in the chorus numbers “Façade” and “Murder, Murder.”
The lighting contributes greatly to the atmosphere, helping to create a brooding menace, and the crew are really on their toes switching rapidly between green and red in Jekyll’s duel-personality “Confrontation” number.
My only grumble, and that of my companion, was that some of the important dialogue sometimes became submerged under the music, and I would hope that has been remedied by the end of the run this weekend.