Blackeyed Theatre presents a different take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic 1886 novella, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, with mixed results.
We all know the story, even if we haven’t read the book, which of course we all have (note: somehow I haven’t read it). Dr Jekyll, first name Henry, will turn into Mr Hyde, first name, Edward ( Edward? who knew? Oh, probably those of you that did read the book). Even when young, we got it, this was about madness, and drugs, but later twigged that this is really a huge allegory about repressed Victorian sexuality that, in its day, was probably very helpful, like putting covers on piano legs so you didn’t think of sex while someone banged out a sonata. “Don’t think of carnal matters, my dear people, while this utter madman molests servants and generally does not give a shilling (the Victorian equivalent of a f**k) about propriety. Think of the empire!”
However, with this intense leading man, you might find your thoughts wandering.
Strange Case (nope, no “The” originally) only contains eight notable characters – or nine if you count Jekyll and Hyde individually – and certainly doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test – so director Nick Lane has made a controversial choice to create a new character and give Dr. Henry Jekyll both an unexpected work ally and a love interest, in established character Hastings Lanyon’s newly imagined wife, Eleanor. This brings not only a romantic angle to the story but a female perspective on the Doctor’s shenanigans that seems both modern and almost necessary.
With shifting narrators and a cast of just four who cover a multitude of characters from different social strata, this production showcases some excellent and different performances. After an odd introduction to the evening involving masks and addressing of Dr. J for… not sure what exactly but it surely wasn’t an act of good citizenship…
Zach Lee kicks off the proceedings as Jekyll’s concerned and steady lawyer Utterson. Utterson is the first to suspect that this “Mr Hyde” whom, he has just been informed, is the new beneficiary of Jekyll’s will, is trouble. Next we meet the good doctor’s frenemy, fellow academic Hastings Lanyon (solid Ashley Sean-Cook, last seen in Blackeyed’s brilliant staging of Frankenstein), who curiously goes by the nickname “Hasty,” which should have been a red flag to his wife. Said spouse is the aforementioned new creation Eleanor, played with charm and fortitude by Paige Round. Not sure why successful singer Eleanor would want to give it all up for science, or for a curiously dull marriage (boy, does Hasty go off of her quickly) but Ms. Round is doing a lot of the heavy lifting in J&H, and making it look easy.
But, no surprise that if you don’t believe in the personality fissure of the protagonist, if you don’t care what happens to him, and you don’t find him violently attractive (ed: not sure this condition is true) you won’t enjoy the evening. No issues here. Switching physically and vocally between Jekyll and Hyde, Jack Bannell does a brilliant job on both characters. His limp is believable, his breakdown somewhat
sympathetic, his mannerisms period-appropriate, and he actually seemed to enjoy inflicting violence on his castmates. The wrap party should be fun.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde – UK Tour 2017/8
This production uses a lot of narration, but takes a while to get going – we are all there to see some crazy, and I wish there had been more. It is not a spoiler to say that the main bit of violence we do see is a moment of slow-motion magic.
Now for the not so great bits. The Victorian jumble-sale set seems left over from another production, the sound a bit canned and the lighting is just lazy. The backdrop could have benefitted from a going–over with a hot iron, but there was nothing gained by not dropping the stage lights to dark for the scene changes – instead we saw thirty-odd chair reshufflings and as the dreary brown set never actually changed, lighting could have and should have delineated the focus and created more mood for the audience. Most importantly, the big transformation – one might say Stevenson’s money shot – cried out for some effects to highlight Bannell’s masterfully physical performance.