Dance is definitely the art form I have the least experience and knowledge of. If you are like me, you remember Swan Lake from your childhood and maybe watched the dance sequences from West Side Story a couple of times, but never really sought it out to purposefully watch. Old Vic’s archive stream of Jekyll and Hyde made me ashamed that I had shut myself off from modern dance for so long, showing me a new world of dynamic, mesmerising and imaginative story telling.
I thought the cast overall was pretty flawless, but Daniel Collins, who played Jekyll, was definitely one of the standout dancers. Most noticeably, he did the comedy of his character in the first half incredibly well, getting caught up in a phone wire and stuck in his trousers, and making even this seem graceful in a quirky way. He definitely did incredibly well managing to keep up the energy and technique in his long solo dances, and my favourite scene of the whole production was his initially transformation into Hyde. A hugely dramatic moment, and the combination of flashing lights, surreal body movements, and the jarring interruption of the jaunty 1950s radio music with the sudden pulse of the electronic music made this scene incredibly effective.
The setting was updated from Victorian times to the 1950s, and although online reviews seem to be divided on this decision, I think that it was actually one of the changes which worked the best and was most in line with the novel. In my mind, there are some similarities between Victorian England and the 1950s, both characterised by an emphasis on morality and tradition which are reflected in the prim and proper fashion trends. The hypocrisy and double nature of Victorian Britain, which Robert Louis Stevenson is attempting to explore in the original, similarly applies to the 1950s, although on a lesser scale. In a purely aesthetic sense, the bright colours and voluminous swing skirts are incredibly appealing visually, and surely suit the diverse and acrobatic dance moves better than the darkness and heaviness of the fashions around in 1886.
Having said all this, I don’t think this production is successful as an adaptation of the book. It merely skims the surface of the themes and ideas of the famous novel, and instead concentrates heavily of the visual impact and initial drama of the story line. I won’t go into detail on this point, since we are planning an article dedicated to the adaptation of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for stage, but I think this production definitely got the drama and thriller side of the story, without doing justice to the complexity of the themes. For me, I greatly enjoyed it as an independent piece of dance, but for the most part sought to appreciate it as separate and different from the novel rather than seeing it as attempting to achieve the same thing.
It is also interesting to consider how much has changed in terms of diversity since 2015 when it was originally performed. We can only hope that this mostly all white cast wouldn’t be seen today, and looking back it was quite a noticeable flaw of this production. There is only a very limited number of POC in the cast, one of whom is a server, played by Alexzandra Sarmiento, and the other is the sexualised seductress Ivy, played by Ebony Molina. Whether this was a complete coincidence or reveals stereotyped casting, it makes for slightly uncomfortable modern watching.
You can still watch this production on the Old Vic Youtube page, but catch it before 7pm of the 12th of August when it’ll be taken offline again!
Image: Old Vic production photo, taken by Manuel Harlan