Jekyll and Hyde

26 June 2018, Hastings Community Arts Centre
By Jess Soutar Barron

We’re in this show from the moment we come through the door. We can’t even get to our seats without strutting the catwalk. The actors greet the audience like they remember us from last time, like we’re the friends they’ve come here to hang with.

They drink wine straight from the bottle, sway to OutKast, mooch, mince and sashay through the crowd as it settles. It’s a party. There’s in-jokes but so easily set up and seamlessly seeded that we are all in the know. They pick up names and traits (which they fling back at the audience later, “Natasha is a classic enabler”), while bedecking the innocents with scarves, hats, fascinators (the man beside me almost wears home his faux fur muff).

Jekyll and Hyde is a fittingly bipolar piece: at once bawdy vaudeville and topical rock opera; tight and complex but accessible and effortless; absolutely terrifying … in a really hilarious way.

The company, A Slightly Isolated Dog, brought Don Juan to the 2017 HBAF. It was met with a well-mannered, self-contained response. Tonight’s audience is mad for it, egged on by the cast, who prod and canoodle, elevating ‘audience participation’ to next level craziness. One woman, tiddly on bubbles, squeals “Leave Him Alone!” from the backrow, unprompted, unscripted. She gets a laugh; she does it again. Her man clamps his Hyde-like hand, over her gob. She shrieks through his fingers.

At façade level this is a play about a potion that “gives human form to the darkest urges”, but of course we all know it’s actually a post-modern, para-textual commentary on mental health in contemporary society.

The character of Hyde is too much for any one actor to take on, so all five have a turn portraying this flirty, ferocious bad boy. His hi-jinks and mischief making escalates to excess, and the party we’re all part of makes us culpable witnesses to the unhinging of the cool-guy. It’s like we’re all watching as the drunk mate drives off, like we didn’t read the signs before a friend unleashes fury on his girl. We’re all in this, none of us are innocent and we’re all enablers.

Holding the whole piece together is an enormous amount of talent, primarily in improv but also in voice. Susie Berry is a kick-arse rapper and they can all bang out a tune. Comfrey Sanders is cute, yes, but enormously capable and totally captivating. Andrew Paterson is an enchanting host, and beguiling in Ru Paul heels. Jack Buchanan and Jonathan Price are generous and gregarious counter-points. The sixth member of the cast is the sound effects wizard, Sam Clavis, whose comic timing is impeccable. Props are simple but effective: tulle fog, a balloon moon. And the quick rewrites to locate the pastiche firmly in Hastings reward the hard-working audience who are completely committed with their verve and vigorous ballyhoo.

It’s a light-hearted, deeply-cutting schizophrenic theatre work that deserves engaged audience who will treasure what they co-create with the cast. There’s gasping and laughter, shock and awe, and just when we think they’ve taken the gauche and the gore too far they push it over the edge and massacre the All Blacks.

On again tomorrow night at the Hastings Community Arts Centre, then touring through the North Island.

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