PUSH Physical Theatre's world premiere of "Jekyll & Hyde," at Blackfriars Theatre on January 29, was an explosive performance that brilliantly plumbed the depths of the human psyche. Darren Stevenson and Jonathan Lowery were outstanding as the title characters: Stevenson was at his best depicting Jekyll's repressive, high-mindedness through his signature gifts of mime and physical theater while Lowery nailed Hyde with his fiendish energy and spot-on delivery of Blackfriars Artistic Director Danny Hoskins' biting dialogue.
This is not the PUSH of gentle mime to which you may be accustomed to taking your children. This is PUSH at its darkest. Violence, strong sensuality, and adult language were rampant. I believe in exposing children to all forms of art (plus I couldn't find a babysitter) so my children -- 13 and 8 years old -- were the only kids in the house. There were more than a few times I wanted to cover my younger boy's eyes and ears, but needless to say, they both sat enthralled throughout the nearly two-hour show, and I believe, the experience made them aware of the power inherent in good theater. Plus, it was fodder for conversations about good and evil, dark impulses, and moral responsibility. Heather Stevenson, PUSH co-director, includes a note for families in the program with a list of "car talk questions" which proved extremely helpful in aiding my boys in understanding the impulses and motives behind the characters' extreme actions. That said, I would still recommend this show for ages 13 and up.
The show's concept was conceived by Darren, and developed by Heather, Lowery, and fellow PUSH members Katherine Marino and Avi Pryntz-Nadworny. The script -- based of course on Robert Louis Stevenson's novella -- is by Hoskins. Interestingly, this team chose to include 21st-century references in the production, making it more relevant and adding even stronger doses of humor.
The production is full of all-consuming moments, and the program time passes in a flash. After Jekyll concocts the elixir that produces Hyde, Lowery appears by slithering through Stevenson's legs accompanied by a squelching, mud-sucking sound effect (kudos to sound and projection operator DJ Stevenson) in an obvious birthing reference. As the drug takes effect, Pryntz-Nadworny appears in a body stocking to guide Stevenson through the transformation. The two perform a mesmerizing dance, gliding back and forth clutching each other, and taking turns lifting the other from the ground. Then an ensemble of the other PUSH members joins in, laying their hands on Stevenson, enveloping him in their movements, miming horror. Later on, Lowery's movements transform into far more violent -- demonic if you will -- actions. He becomes incited with a killing lust and goes on a rampage, murdering and plundering, the meaning intensified by blood splatters appearing on the large, ever-changing projection screen over the stage.
Costumes and sets are minimal but effective for this production, and the lighting unobtrusive in mainly soft sepia tones. The only prop on stage is a large table-cabinet in which characters frequently hide behind, catapult over, and suddenly appear from behind. A small winding staircase on the side of the Blackfriars stage works perfectly for the title characters to hang from, shimmy around, and from which to perform the company's unique blend of sensual acrobatics.
The use of so much dialogue in a production is a huge departure for PUSH. The company usually relies on movement and mime alone to convey meaning. The company's 2009 production of "Dracula" (also written and directed by Hoskins) had minimal dialogue -- definitely not the steady stream that this new production has. Lowery is a classically trained actor and his wry quips and enraged rants add to the show's complexity, but the lengthy voice-overs of Stevenson seemed like too much blatant expository; Stevenson already relays all we really need to know through his physical movements and body language.