Over decades, the tale of the doctor who releases the evil that lives within him only to be consumed and condemned by it, has shown itself to be robust enough to survive translation into all kinds of cultural phenomenon. And one doesn't need to have read the book, seen the film or watched the play to know what a reference to "Jekyll and Hyde" behaviour means.
So Morphic Graffitti could be accused of playing safe with their debut production (at the Union Theatre until 16 June) but such accusations would be unfounded. A cast of sixteen crowd the tiny space below the railway arches, increasing the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Briccusse-Wildhorn musical. Set in a present day metropolis full of hypocrites, hookers and homicides, this is a parable that could fit any time, any place. The cast effect multiple set changes, work with lighting that enhances the plot and create a real sense of this being a big show - Morphic Graffitti will become a name to watch.
Notwithstanding the bells and whistles, musical theatre needs strong performances to make us believe in these people who insist on bursting into song in the most unlikely of circumstances - fortunately, this show gets them from an experienced set of actors, a million miles from cruise entertainers often found in touring musical shows.
Tim Rogers is twitchy and nervous as a messianic Jekyll, drunk on his dreams of saving the world, whose self-medication ransforms him into a hooded hoodlum serial-killing round London, firstly in vengeance at those who slighted him, then because he just likes it. Wisely, Rogers' transformation is more psychological than physical, with the blurring of the boundaries between the doctor and his alter-ego asking more questions than any hairy-handed Hyde would. Rogers is supported by a strong ensemble with some fine singing from Joanna Strand as his fiancee and a powerhouse performance from Madalena Alberto as the doomed tart-with-a-heart.
Director Luke Fredericks, wonderfully served by Dean Austin and his musicians, gives us a serious show about a serious subject - the evil that lies dormant within us all. He backs the cast to convey emotion without shouting, without melodramatic gestures and without drawing clear lines between the goodies and the baddies; and they don't let him down. This is musical theatre for grown-ups.