Somewhere, over the West End

Fingers crossed at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley; if all goes well, `Jekyll' could be a monster. W Stephen Gilbert goes behind the scenes, and below, David Benedict looks at the musicals that fell at the first

It's not every week you see a musical that begins and ends with a funeral, features a chorus of Bedlam inmates and a very nasty sexual assault and has as its hero a man in the grip of schizophrenia. You need to go to Bromley to savour this unusual experience. Then it tours. Provided large numbers of theatregoers do not stagger home vowing to stick to gardening in future, the West End will play host to the spectacle later this year or early next.

Those gardeners might well have expected a show called Jekyll to focus on the garden designer Gertrude of that ilk. It is an odd aspect of a confounding show that the central theme of duality and split personality is so ruthlessly excised from a title that instead follows the single- word convention for musical dramatisations.

Jekyll's creators, Tony Rees and Gary Young, entered it for a competition launched by the short-lived New Musicals Alliance at which it was noticed by Alliance trustee Patricia Macnaughton. She was well placed to help, having set up in 1990 a company, Atlantic Overtures, to develop musicals. "I became interested in the show," she says "and my personal opinion was endorsed by one or two of the leading producers in the country. We took over the show, developed it further and started talking to producers. The bunch who showed the most interest were Apollo Leisure."

Apollo Leisure is a wide-ranging organisation, both owning venues and backing projects. Adrian Leggett is the executive representing the company interest. "Patricia's been in the business a long time and she's a well- respected lady," he says. "She came to us with Jekyll about 18 months ago with the creative team almost all in place. We listened to the music and read the book and in December '94 we did a little sing-through at the Prince of Wales Theatre, using half a dozen artists and a piano with the director reading the book.

"We invited some close friends and business associates. That went down well and we got good comments from people like Baz [Bamigboye] of the Daily Mail, "so we decided to take it to the next stage and find a producing house."

Enter the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, a venue owned and supported by the local council but managed for the past 12 months by the Theatre of Comedy.

Patricia Macnaughton's creative team is headed by director Stephen Rayne. "He is not a well-known West End name," says Macnaughton, "but he has worked a great deal in the past with Trevor Nunn and also in opera and we felt that he had both the directing and the musical experience to handle this. We invited to the presentation a strong designer with Scottish connections, Robin Don. He went off bubbling, `Oh, I see it, I see it.' " The basic set Don fashioned is familiar enough, a generalised, split-level arc of amphitheatre that converts to anything. Into this, however, flies Jekyll's lab, a quite beautiful and evocative construct.

After last week's Bromley opening, Adrian Leggett was well pleased with Don's work: "The people I was sitting near were oooing and aahing. Mention Peter Mumford, too, whose lighting creates a wonderful atmosphere. But," he concedes unbidden, "you can't sell a show on scenery."

And the whole Bromley exercise is designed to make up whatever shortfall there may be between Jekyll and a show you can sell. Ahead of the opening, the shrewd Macnaughton was keeping her options open. "It is a show we would like to take into the West End," she emphasised. "But we may find at the end of the day that it is a very strong touring show. But it is being developed absolutely to West End standard.

"The ideal thing to do, if we feel comfortable when it's on its feet in the theatre, is to invite some West End owners to see it and discuss whether a suitable theatre would be available. That might then mean quite soon. Or we might have to say, `OK, guys, we either try and extend the tour or we lay it off for a certain period.' "

After the opening, I asked whether she felt comfortable enough to summons the owners. "Not yet," she accepted. "I think in the next couple of weeks we'll know what it is we want. They've got a lot of playing in to do."

The problems of a fledgling musical can lie deep and defy rational analysis. For a Sondheim lover like me, the shows that appeal most are those that set themselves tests to overcome rather than taking every easy and ingratiating option. Before Jekyll opened, however, both Leggett and Macnaughton had cited Sondheim as the archetypal artist who inspires admiration but keeps bums off seats. "It's a difficult world," notes the former "where artistically you may love something but commercially you know it doesn't stand a chance. Audiences in general don't like something that's too clever for them. Like City of Angels. It had the best reviews in the world but it turned them off."

While it is true that the Bromley first-nighters sat in the silence of concentration rather than indifference, the concern for Jekyll must be that its darkness will deter the coach parties. And its star Dave Willetts - a fine singer and a decent actor but hardly a charismatic stage presence - is the only name with marquee value.

Adrian Leggett was in high spirits just after the opening. "There's a few bits and pieces to sort but I'm very, very pleased," he cried. "After seeing a piece you can always tell if it's got a heart, and this has definitely got a heart."

So I taxed him on Jekyll's dark qualities. The irony is that, having unaccountably missed The Fields of Ambrosia, a musical whose morbidity kept the town away in droves, I was most reminded of Sweeney Todd by ... um ... Stephen Sondheim.

"If I'm honest with you, it needs some lighter moments," says the executive producer. "It drives along at a relentless pace and it needs to give the audience a slight breather. But you have to be brave and do something different." I volunteer that the lyrics are really rather weak. "That's one of the areas in my notes to sort out. But I've got the writers here, so..."

One of the writers has told me he's heading home to Australia. "Is he?" says Leggett, "I don't think so. Not just yet." There is an unmistakable glint in his eye. WSG

n `Jekyll' plays the Churchill Theatre, Bromley (0181-460 5838) to 13 April, then tours to Oxford, Hull, Manchester and Edinburgh

Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home