The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
Reviewed – 4th October 2017
“the company didn’t fall back on clichéd tactics to define Hyde”
A little like the play itself I found myself this evening exhibiting two distinct personalities. My quiet Jekyll was trying to enjoy the show, my barely contained Hyde was seething at four back rows of teenagers whispering loudly, rustling sweeties and reacting noisily to each stage of the story, drowning out the next piece of dialogue for rest of the tutting audience.
Before I even begin this review I need to acknowledge and praise the cast from Blackeyed Theatre for carrying on regardless. A responsive audience is a wonderful thing for an actor, although this was borderline distracting, even I found it irritating and I am used to rooms full of children!
The production however was able to pull my attention back to stage. The set was simple, a screen of period pine dressers and doors to hide away character and costume changes, with a table and chairs moved carefully around to alter each scene. This allowed the play to be character focused and as a four player piece they did it very well.
In Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel there is a back story to the well known abbreviated ‘monster’ version we have all seen too many times before. Director Nick Lane has adapted it for stage while remaining true to the original book, something I for one appreciate.
The first half of the play introduces Dr. Jekyll, an ailing man in Victorian London. His illness is not disclosed but its physical effect is well portrayed by Jack Bannell, and reveals a man frustrated at his limitations.
Jekyll’s determination to study the mind physically is revealed. In an era where asylums were overflowing the need for further understanding and hopeful cures were the Holy Grail of the day. Yet the idea that personality and brain may not be separate was not common thinking. In the late 1800’s Jekyll’s chosen area of research was both new and exciting as well as highly taboo.
Jekyll’s old university friend, Hastings Lanyon, played by Ashley Sean-Cook, is the Victorian moral compass of the piece. He struggles to understand his colleagues ambitions and is angered by his willingness to twist the Hippocratic oath.
Gabriel Utterson, played by Zach Lee, narrates the majority of the story through either directly addressing the audience, or in conversation with Jekyll who expects total support from his friend and lawyer, due to his sister’s own mental breakdown.
But by the time we reach the interval, Jekyll has reached an impasse, with little support from friends and having to cease experiments on rats and humans, he is driven to use himself to test his formulas on. Here the devilish Mr Hyde is born. In the second half the battle between the now split personality of Jekyll and Hyde continues its destructive path, making victims of strangers and friends, breaking bodies and relationships.
With no variance in costume, I liked that the company didn’t fall back on clichéd tactics to define Hyde, instead the metamorphosis of the sedate Dr Jekyll into an angry, violent Hyde is cleverly represented purely through body language, stance, voice and swagger.
Throughout Paige Round is very convincing as Eleanor Lanyon, a woman torn between awe of what Jekyll may achieve and fear of losing the man she loves. She assists and enables much of Jekyll’s work and is soon the only person aware of Hyde’s true identity. The power struggle between the two sides of the same man is fierce and suicidal, and murders it’s way towards the ultimate conclusion.
The story leaves you wondering how much of Hyde was the unleashing of a monster and what was simply the freeing of Victorian repression. Jekyll is an admired, amiable man, one who treats his servants well and refuses to admit or act on feelings he has for his friend’s wife. He is seemingly the opposite of Hyde who embraces anger and enjoys violence, does what he wants and considers people disposable.
Yet the sedate Jekyll was was passionate and unwavering in his beliefs, ignored advice, and was happy to illegally experiment on animals and people. Perhaps he is not so different to his alter ego after all.
A pleasant adaptation of a classic story, well worth a visit.
Reviewed by Joanna Hinson
Photography by Alex Harvey-Brown
THE STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL & MR HYDE
is at The Greenwich Theatre until 7th October