JULIE Lomas directs Helmsley Arts Centre’s resident troupe, the 1812 Theatre Company, in their first ever musical production, Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse’s Jekyll & Hyde, from tomorrow.
In Robert Louis Stevenson’s story, a devoted man of science, Dr Henry Jekyll, is driven to find a chemical breakthrough that can solve some of mankind’s most challenging medical dilemmas. Indeed, he is trying to discover cures for what now would be recognised as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Rebuffed by the powers that be, he decides to make himself the subject of his own experimental treatments, accidentally unleashing his inner demons along with the man the world would come to know as Mr Hyde.
1812’s cast features husband and wife Joe and Amy Gregory in the lead roles of Jekyll/Hyde and Emma Carew. John Atkin is the musical director; Michaela Edens, the choreographer.
Here Julie discusses 1812 Theatre Company’s 30th anniversary production with CharlesHutchPress.
How did you land this directing gig? Were you head-hunted or did you pitch for it?
“An 1812 Theatre Company member suggested that the company should do a musical at the annual general meeting. Apparently, others had been talking about wanting to do it for some time.
“The committee discussed this and I said that if they would like to go ahead, I had experience as a director
in musical theatre and would love to do it.”
What attracted you to directing Jekyll & Hyde The Musical?
“I love musicals that dramatic enough to ‘move’ an audience emotionally. There are not many of these that are available for amateurs to perform. I feel that there are several opportunities for this in Jekyll and Hyde.
“With its dramatic strengths and less choreographic content, it is a suitable choice as a
first musical for this company.
“Plus, I’ve directed it before for the Grange Players in Walsall. This actually made me think very carefully as I prefer not to repeat anything, but this was a musical that I was driven to do again. My concept this time is different, a contemporary treatment but still in a Victorian setting.”
What is your directing background?
“Having performed in several plays for The Grange Theatre, Walsall, I was asked if I would like to
direct. My first play was Kindertransport by Diane Samuels, and after that I never looked back.
“I directed several plays there, including Rebecca, Accrington Pals and The End Of The Affair but my favourite by a long way was Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus.
“I think it was being able to bring together my love of music, fabulous period costume, make-up
and wigs plus the wonderful tragic plot line and enigmatic characters. I was fortunate enough to win a regional NODA (National Operatic and Dramatic Association) award for that production, which I treasure.
“I moved into directing a musical there and then directed one professionally for Brownhills Musical Theatre Company, Sweet Charity.”
Do you now specialise in musical theatre?
“I’m keen to embrace many types of theatrical productions. I’ve been a soloist singer since the age of eight and have been lucky enough to have had many fantastic principal roles in musical theatre. My favourites were Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, Dorothy Brock in 42nd Street and Sally Bowles in Cabaret.
“So, although I cannot say that I specialise in musical theatre, there’s absolutely nothing that compares with the feeling of being part of a musical, as a performer, director or crew member.”
What brought you to Helmsley?
“I moved to North Yorkshire to be geographically close to my son and his wife and see more of my grandchildren. My eldest son and his family live in Sheffield, so I can commute there too.
“However, it’s a great place to live in its own right, the peaceful countryside around here is a sheer delight and Helmsley is the prettiest town in which to rehearse and perform! I was looking for a theatre company that would feel like ‘home’ to me and I felt welcomed from the start. The theatre itself is lovely, providing an intimate theatre space, modern studio bar and leafy courtyard.
“I live in Westow, a village just outside the Howardian Hills area. I now consider the Helmsley Arts
Centre to be my base. In a few years, even with the lockdown, I have already performed there, worked backstage for a production and I’m also a member of the management committee.”
Any thoughts on why 1812 Theatre Company has not staged a musical in its 30 years until now?
“I would imagine it’s because when the company was set up, the idea was for members to perform plays. However, it’s so much more diverse now. In the past 12 months alone we’ve performed plays, a rehearsed reading, an indoor/outdoor production in Helmsley Walled Garden, a hugely successful pantomime and now a musical!
“We’re hoping that this variety will both entice new members, who are always welcome,
and encourage retention of existing members.
“The other more sombre answer is that to produce a musical is expensive and we’re hoping to have good audiences, not only to see the amazing performances, but also from a financial
What are the strengths of Bricusse and Wildhorn’s songs?
“As we’re repeatedly told by our musical director, John Atkin, this is not an easy musical score. However, it’s such a beautiful one with melodies that linger long after the show is over.
“It allows performers to do just that: perform the music, rather than just sing it, and we have worked hard to bring that to the stage. It provides a tour de force for the eponymous actor, Jekyll, which climaxes with him singing a duet with himself, as Hyde. Joe [Gregory] has excelled in the role and I’m sure audiences will appreciate his performance.”
Is this the first time you have worked with musical director John Atkin?
“It is, and I’m hoping it will not be the last. As soon as I met him, I knew the production
was in safe hands. He’s an extremely talented musician and wonderful to
A husband and wife, Joe and Amy Gregory, will lead your cast as Jekyll/Hyde and Emma Carew. What does their personal relationship bring to their stage partnership?
“It’s rare for there to be such chemistry between the two romantic leads – even if they do happen to be married! Joe and Amy have such a special relationship, and in their case, this comes across immediately.
“They’re also both lovely people and in all my time directing, I have genuinely never met anyone more joyous to work with. They are committed, passionate performers who will work hard to
deliver what you’re aiming for as a director yet also contribute actively to the creative process.”
What is the message of Jekyll & Hyde in our 21st century world, where tampering with science
may well have led to Covid?
“Good question. I suppose the message is that research does not always deliver the desired
results. Sometimes though, even the unexpected results can turn out to be beneficial. There are many drugs that are used for things for which they were not intended in development.
“As a hospital pharmacist by profession, I was interested in this angle of drug research in psychiatry with Dr Jekyll. Even today, we still know comparatively little about the causes of
mental illness and effective drug therapy is limited.
“Also, if you consider the possible effects of hallucinogenic drugs, the concept of a ‘Dr Jekyll’ and ‘Mr Hyde’ characterisation after injection is not so far-fetched.”
What will be your next theatrical project?
“My next project for 1812 Theatre Company is to mentor a first-time director, Sarah Barker, as she directs ’The Kitchen Sink [Hull playwright Tom Wells’s tender comedy of big dreams and small changes in a Withernsea, East Yorkshire family].
“I think the big question is, will I ever direct another musical for 1812. Who knows? This production has consumed every moment of my life for the past six months, and a fair few moments in the months before that.
“I’d like to think so. What I do know, though, is that my passion for musicals will never die, unlike a number of Jekyll’s victims!”
1812 Theatre Company in Jekyll & Hyde The Musical, Helmsley Arts Centre, July 5 to 9, 7.30pm. Tickets: £15, under 18s, £7.50, from the arts centre, on 01439 771700 or helmsleyarts.co.uk. Age
guidance: Suitable for 13 plus.