AMATEUR is a word that will soon no longer be needed, at least not in the theatre, and certainly not in Yeovil. With world-class intimate plays at the Swan Theatre and big full-stage, huge-cast musicals at the Octagon, it is hard to distinguish between these shows and the professional output on show at Bristol Hippodrome and Tobacco Factory and Bath Theatre Royal.
In the case of Jekyll and Hyde the set and costumes were professional, and the band, under MD Kathryn Stevens, sounded as though they were too, so the only thing “amateur” about this YAOS production was the cast, and there was little sign of anything amateur this evening. This was confirmed by a good friend who had seen the show before, on tour in Bristol starring Marti Pellow, thought that the role of Jekyll/Hyde was performed much better tonight than by Mr Pellow, and she kept forgetting this was an amateur show.
The title characters are of course the same person, and to fill these roles an actor is needed who can be at once highly sophisticated and intellectual, and vicious, low and animal-like. Anyone who saw The Music Man at Castle Cary will know that Luke Whitchurch is such an actor. He quickly develops from the posh Dr Jekyll to the nasty piece of work that is Mr Hyde, and not just with his voice and the letting down of a slightly-too-obvious wig, which sadly sometimes made him look a little more Ozzy Osbourne than Edward Hyde, but with his whole body movements and mannerisms. This was a detailed and specific interpretation of two roles which had clearly been tightly and efficiently directed, by Jeremy Tustin. He maintains this dichotomy throughout his songs, and his duet with himself near the end is tear-provoking. It may just have been first-night nerves, but I would have loved to have heard more of his natural voice, perhaps with the vibrato switched off once in a while – as I know how good his voice is from The Music Man.
His supporting ladies, one good and one bad, to match his characters, had the two most beautiful voices on the stage, and the highlight for me was when, having heard them each sing on their own, they combined for the mesmerising duet In His Eyes. There were justified hoots of approval when this ended, and even Mr Whitchurch could learn a little from Naomi Riglar as Emma and the wonderful Jennifer Holland-Brewer as Lucy, particularly their control of breath and vibrato. Holland-Brewer was a very knowing girl about town and played the part with a genuine earthiness, and Riglar played Emma confidently, as a strong, independent woman, sure of what she wanted, despite her father’s concerns.
Stephen Williams, a stalwart of the local musical stage since the 1980s, played Emma’s father. His accurate, lyrical voice was a welcome sound whenever it appeared, and his acting, as always, is solid and reliable. Most other cast members appeared as minor characters and also in the fantastic chorus, the sound of which easily matches any current West End musical – with wonderful harmonies and counter melodies, and every word audible. The staging is natural and choreography simple enough for everyone to do something.
I have hardly mentioned the material itself – a 1990s musical version with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and music by Frank Wildhorn of a tale by Robert Louis Stephenson which many people will know – but there is no need to do so, as you can still see this wonderful production yourself – it’s on until Saturday, and is not to be missed.