Adapted by David Edgar and directed by Kate Saxton, the infamous tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has been electrified on stage in this production. A haunting, dramatic and disturbing play, it explores the hidden evils behind the façade of middle class 19th century London.
Like other classic gothic stories of its time, including Frankenstein and Dracula, Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella has taken on a life of its own. Almost everyone has some basic knowledge of the storyline: how the highly educated and well-respected Dr Jekyll falls victim to his own experiment.
“Jekyll struggles to hide his dual identity”
Unbeknownst to his friends and colleagues, Jekyll creates a potion to investigate the lower base of man, thus transforming himself into the gruesome and primitive ‘Juggernaut’ Mr Hyde. As Hyde’s crimes become more and more horrific and well-known throughout the city, Jekyll struggles to hide his dual identity and control his inner urges.
Whilst the premise of the plot remains the same in this play adaptation, certain changes have been made. The most notable of these I would suggest is the inclusion of named female characters. Whilst Stevenson’s novella is very male-orientated, Edgar’s script includes two main female roles: Jekyll’s widowed sister Katherine, played by Polly Frame, and his parlour maid Annie, played by Grace Hogg-Robinson.
Another key difference is the dramatic focus. Although Stevenson wrote in third person narrative, the novella closely follows the perspective of lawyer and friend of Jekyll’s, Mr Utterson. However, in this play Mr Utterson (Robin Kingsland) takes on a lesser role, with the audience’s attention being focused on Jekyll (Phil Daniels) himself.
For me the performance got off to a bit of a slow start. Whereas in the novella the reader learns about the strange relationship between Jekyll and Hyde gradually through Utterson’s investigation, in the play the audience is provided with a backstory to Jekyll’s ideas and see the process of his deterioration first-hand.
“The majority of the first act is rather long-winded”
Due to this, the majority of the first act is a rather long-winded trip of Jekyll’s to visit his sister Katherine in the countryside, where he seeks to find the notes of his recently-deceased father, who was also a doctor and had completed extensive research into the splitting of a person’s soul.
On the other hand, the second half of the play was action-packed, thrilling and darker than ever. The shockingly-violent actions of Hyde present the anxieties of the time that a lower-class, intensely aggressive group of individuals were growing in the depths of the city.
Although it was first published over 130 years ago, this adaptation of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde proves that the story is still relevant today, drawing upon themes of good vs. evil, friendship, family, class, criminality and sexual violence.
Even though some viewers may have found the transformation from Jekyll into Hyde underwhelming, in my opinion the decision to have the same actor for both ‘characters’ was the correct one.
This helped to present the blurred boundaries between Dr Jekyll and his evil counterpart, showing Jekyll’s descent into a frenzy driven by Hyde. Phil Daniels did a brilliant job of portraying the two identities, using posture, accent, facial expressions and even humour to distinguish between the personas of Jekyll and Hyde.
Another stand-out feature of the performance was the set. A raised balcony, multiple doors and moving backdrops created seamless transitions from scene to scene, portraying various settings with ease.
“The technical aspects of the play really complimented the overall tone.”
Lighting was also used effectively; dark lighting was adopted throughout the majority of the play to depict an ominous and eerie atmosphere in gloomy London. Despite this consistent lighting, spotlights were used to highlight certain characters, and the door to Jekyll’s private laboratory was illuminated red to signal danger. Therefore, the technical aspects of the play really complimented the overall tone.
Gripping, tense and sinister, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde will transport the audience back to a gothic Victorian setting, whilst still reminding them of the very real dangers of freewill, hidden desires and concealed criminality.
Images courtesy of Theatre Royal Webpage