The set is a deliberate distraction. A decaying Victorian warehouse with broken windows, a cast iron fire escape and a hint of foliage, it prepares us not at all for the colourful dresses, petticoats and sharp suits of the cast as they propel themselves across the stage.
The 1950s setting is the first shock to the senses induced by director/choreographer Drew McOnie in his revisionist dance version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of split personality and yin/yang morality. As the walls of the Soutra Gilmour’s set open out and revolve to expose a variety of rooms it becomes increasingly clear that this production is unlikely to be overly reverential to its literary source.
While there is some logic in its combination of post-war moral austerity and subterranean hedonism on the verge of breaking through society’s surface, it creates problems. Dr Jekyll (Daniel Collins channelling Harold Lloyd) is a timid florist with a laboratory in his living room. Utterly wet and a weed, he can hardly bring himself to approach the statuesque Dahlia (Rachel Muldoon) even though she has clearly taken a shine to him. Having tested a serum on his plants he tries it on himself. Evolving from nerd to neanderthal in the shower, his inner beast arrives in the shape of Tim Hodges’ Mr Hyde who proceeds to bash up male rivals and have his wicked way with any girl who takes his fancy. Spoiler alert: it all ends in tears.
The big problem here is the inconsistency of the concept. McOnie’s choreography is fizzing and lively, with Jerome Robbins’-style ensembles set to a musical mish-mash of styles from composer Grant Olding. Starting with a kind of Victor Sylvester big band ballroom sound it shifts gear into pastiche 1950s rock ’n’ roll before leaping across two decades to the squalling electric guitars of prog rock. This jumpiness infects everything, obscuring the story as well as its execution. Aside from the solos and duets which are deftly handled (and often very funny) the choric pieces are vague and pointless – and the ‘flower’ dance just plain silly; why would female ‘flowers’ be stripped down to Playtex bras and skirts? It looks sexy, but it means nothing.
There are heavy echoes of Matthew Bourne – with whom McOnie was associated for many years – and particularly his production of Dorian Gray, even down to the pseudo-Francis Bacon paintings that decorate the nightclub set. The florist shop setting and Jekyll’s bespectacled appearance led me to think I had wandered into Little Shop of Horrors by mistake, but McOnie keeps faith in some ways with the story whose first manuscript was supposedly burnt due to its pornographic content. Piling on the sex and violence (and violent sex) this makes Liam Scarlett’s Sweet Violets look like When Harry Met Sally.
The fight choreography is undeniably effective and the sex is brutal, but there remains something addlepated about the enterprise that no amount of whirling about, revolving sets and howling music can quite deter. Dance-orientated gorehounds will love it.