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London Theatre Reviews

Ph: Alastair Muir

SWAGGER AND SWIRL

By SAM MARLOWE

The Old Vic is streaming a dance-theatre production that is alive with energy and attitude but lacking in psychological depth.

RL Stevenson’s doppelgänger yarn gets slammed into the 20th century in this dance-theatre version devised, choreographed and directed by Drew McOnie, to music by Grant Olding. A musical-theatre regular who has also worked extensively with Matthew Bourne, McOnie retains the original’s looming Victorian architecture, but resets the action in a fantasia of the 1950s. Against Soutra Gilmour’s revolving sets of broken glass, steel and stonework, colors are as bright and saturated as an MGM musical. And much of the dancing springs from the same era, all swagger and slink, swoop and swirl, a glamorous Technicolor romance. But this is, of course, a story of doubleness – that sweetness and swoon is offset by lashings of sex and violence, with muscle-popping posturing, grinding hips and spread legs, along with plenty of gore and one particularly nasty neck-snapping. It ought to be, at least, a thrill ride – so why doesn’t it grip?
 
Part of the problem is a lack of psychological depth. It’s not entirely clear, beyond the alluring aesthetics, which dramatic purposes drove McOnie to choose this particular period – which is a shame, given that sexual repression was still rampant at a time when Elvis Presley’s gyrations were only permitted on TV from the waist up. The King is evoked specifically in some excitable, priapic moves by Daniel Collins as Jekyll, reinvented by McOnie as an unassuming florist (nerdy, but blessed with cheekbones that could shave parmesan). By night, Jekyll experiments with home-brewed potions that might perk up his droopy blooms. By day, he dreams of winning the love of Dahlia (Rachel Muldoon), an elegant redhead who regularly pops into his shop. His Elvis impersonation comes about when they speak on the phone and he croons into the mouthpiece as if it were a microphone, before comically tying himself into besotted knots with the wire. Then he discovers that a secret ingredient – his own blood – can supercharge his plant serum, and after naked convulsions in the shower, he’s transformed by the lurid green liquid. Tim Hodges’ Hyde emerges, mean-faced and sharp in a mustard suit, on the prowl for fighting and fornication.
 
Musical-theatre fans will spot an obvious similarity to Little Shop of Horrors, and perhaps there’s a whiff of Aronofsky’s double-dancing movie Black Swan here too. But McOnie never properly makes a case for Hyde as Jekyll’s rampant id, the link between them underdeveloped, and although dancers sinuously intertwine just beyond Jekyll’s window, and flowers come to human life to glide about in their underwear, the eroticism feels forced. Ironically, for all the blatant sexuality on display, nothing quite connects. If we don’t properly understand Jekyll’s divided nature here, we certainly don’t understand what it is about Hodges’ thuggish Hyde that drives women wild. Meanwhile, Olding’s score tears about from sultry jazz to jaunty showtune to grinding heavy-metal guitars, without ever managing much in the way of melody. It’s all too surface, too frenetic. You long for it to settle, to (no pun intended) penetrate.
 
Still, that surface is certainly visually arresting, and the performers are engaging, bringing energy and attitude to the work’s glossily garish world. It’s an eye-catching spectacle; but it’s less fatal passion, more one-night stand.
 
Streaming at oldvictheatre.com until 12 Aug.