“a disappointing production, that neither scares nor moves, though Spencer’s performance is the saving grace”
The papers called her ‘Little Miss Mozart’ but twelve years after her death, where she was found having overdosed on sleeping pills at the age of nineteen, Julia’s father Joe, is still looking for answers. He has invited Julia’s last boyfriend, Andy, to the music centre that he has built around Julia’s bedroom, an unaltered shrine to her genius. Joining them is Ken Chase, a local psychic, so he says, though his connection to Julia’s life goes far deeper. It is both a ghost story and a psychological narrative of grief and loss. The weight of creative genius on a person, particularly from such a young age, is interestingly explored and commented upon.
However Haunting Julia isn’t one of Alan Ayckbourn’s best plays and, in this case, it isn’t helped by the overall production. Originally intended by its writer as a ninety minute piece, in longer form it is now a slow journey, repetitive and unengaging. It plods along, pedestrian-like, until the melodramatic ending which elicits more laughter than fear from the audience tonight.
Matthew Spencer delivers a strong and nuanced performance as Andy Rollinson, Julia’s boyfriend at the time, beginning the play as a sceptical non-believer, and ending the play shaken and moved. However he is flanked by two disappointing performances from Sam Cox and Clive Llewellyn. Cox is unconvincing, acting out towards the audience rather than towards his fellow actors, and the emotional complexity of this stifling, grieving father figure is not accessed by his performance. Both Cox and Llewellyn also struggle to deliver the notes of humour that pepper the script and are characteristic of Ayckbourn’s writing, causing the play to drag and stagnate over and over.
The set, designed by Jess Curtis, is functional and competently done, but it isn’t anything awe-inspiring, and the spacing of it contributes to the frequently bizarre staging of the actors by director Lucy Pitman-Wallace, which often makes the interactions between the characters feel unnatural and performative.
This is a disappointing production, that neither scares nor moves, though Spencer’s performance is the saving grace.
“The one moment of true violence on stage was badly managed, and failed to convince”
Robert Louis Stevenson’s late 19th century novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde revisits the same themes as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written 70 years earlier. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, its narrative of the duality of human nature and the merits (or otherwise) of scientific investigation, still have the power to fascinate. What a shame then, that this production remains in the dated and formulaic tradition of Victorian drawing room drama.
David Edgar’s script introduces three female characters to the original, but, despite some excellent work from both Polly Frame as Dr. Jekyll’s forward-looking sister Katherine, and Grace Hogg-Robinson as her plucky maid Annie, their inclusion seemed superfluous, and served only to detract from the pared-down tension of Stevenson’s tale. Indeed, the production as a whole was baggy, and lacked both pace and narrative drive. The inclusion of two sub-plots – Annie’s flight and subsequent appointment in Dr. Jekyll’s house, and Lanyon’s actions as a result of the exposure of his past – together with the final reveal of a formative incident in Dr. Jekyll’s childhood, crowded out the power of Dr. Jekyll’s terrifying experiment entirely.
The production failed to provide any moments of genuine fear, and Phil Daniels’ central performance often teetered on the edge of vaudeville, leaving the audience unsure of what was expected from them. Some able, but strangely-placed, pieces of theatrical business from Sam Cox, as Jekyll’s butler Poole, gave us the reason we needed to laugh, but this reviewer was not the only one to feel the comedy inherent in Daniels’ broad Glaswegian, drunken Hyde. The one moment of true violence on stage was badly managed, and failed to convince, and the decision to delay the conclusion, and thus dilute the impact, of Hyde’s original transgression, as witnessed by Utterson, seemed yet another way to diminish Hyde’s monstrous power.
The production design only served to underline the Fairground House of Horrors feel of the piece, with hackneyed visual and sonic tropes throughout. Rosie Abraham’s haunting voice was beautiful, but overused, and the glowing laboratory door and equipment seemed faintly comedic. As did the continual opening and closing of all three on-stage doors, which bordered on the farcical.
Ultimately, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde did not seize the imagination. It is a tale that still has the capacity to bite, but, unfortunately, this production rendered it toothless.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Mark Douet
Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
Rose Theatre Kingston until 17th February then continues on tour