Wednesday, November 02, 2011


Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch

A World Premiere at the Queen's for Halloween, a version of the classic Gothic tale set in a Music Hall just up the road in the East End, the seedy Victorian milieu where Jekyll's alter ego roamed in search of pleasure.

Chris Bond's inspired adaptation includes lots of songs from the period, including Marble Halls and a lovely temperance number, a cod operation, a vent act, some Doctor Doctor jokes, silent cinema-style underscoring from Satie, Dukas, Stravinsky and others, two quite savage satirical numbers and a couple of singalongs from the band.
In the case of Cut to the Chase, that means the company, of course – where else would the programme credit “Whore – cello, keys, percussion” - the excellent Karen Fisher-Pollard. And who's that sinister white-faced figure playing trombone at the back ? Simon Jessop, who's our Chairman at the Billet Lane Bucket of Blood, and also manages several other roles including a splendidly Wildean Mrs Jekyll.

It's all over in 90 minutes – plus an interval, with special J&H cocktails on offer – so you'd be forgiven for fearing that Stevenson might be killed in the rush, lost in the laughter. But no, a change of scene and mood, and generous quotations from the text remind us of the philosophical under-pinning of this story of dark duality – we are not one man, but two, not one nation, but two. The writing veered crazily between Carry On, sibilant narration and sub-Tennyson verse. And miraculously never came off the rails.

Matt Devitt's production is very stylish [Norman Coates the designer – after DorĂ©], with an intricate proscenium arch, a lovely lab for the Doctor, with its altar-like bench for him to play God on, and a surreal keyhole door for peeping Tom Jude, who gave a powerfully melodramatic Jekyll. Mark Stanford was the wounded soldier and Jekyll's friend and mentor Lanyon, Rachel Dawson was the Sally Army girl and the doomed Ellen, and MD Carol Sloman gave us a definitive male impersonator Toff, in the style of Burlington Bertie.

There have been many dramatic adaptations. Just months after Stevenson's tale first hit the bookshops, work had begun on a stage version, and since then we've had a blockbuster musical and David Edgar's play for the RSC. I think Bond's gallimaufry of styles comes off well – it worked for Crippen, I recall, and of course for Sweeney Todd. And that's no coincidence, since it was Bond's 1973 play that Stephen Sondheim saw and set to music ...

production photo by Nobby Clark

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