Nick Lane’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Gothic tale is well suited to the stage – The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde is expanded to provide more substantial ancillary characters. But the new narrative also sheds some light on the mysterious inner workings of both Jekyll and Hyde (artfully characterised by Jack Bannell). In this version, we have Jekyll disappearing entirely and Hyde unable to survive without him – the light is a necessity for the dark to exist.
Lane’s mutually symbiotic relationship throws a new angle onto the bare bones of Stevenson’s novella. Fleshing out the tale gives it more impact when staged, but there are times when too much is written down and explained. The beauty in Stevenson’s original story lies in the gaps that we are forced to fill in ourselves – a backstory that isn’t fully told; a set of motivations resulting in Jekyll drinking the potion that aren’t entirely elucidated. The story itself is shaded and only half complete, one version from only one perspective of the man. Lane’s adaptation leaves no room for doubt. As a production, it hangs together well; as a narrative, it loses some of its splendour through demystification. The magician’s illusion is always less impressive when you know how it is performed.
Tristan Parkes’ composition is intentionally full of melancholy and malaise – inspirations from TV serial dramas such as Penny Dreadful or one of the version of Sherlock Holmes are instantly recognisable. But the music gives colouring to what can often be seen as a drab period in time. Naomi Gibbs’ costumes are of earthy tones and muted colours, Victoria Spearing’s design is in keeping with the dour, severe attitude that often came across in late Victorian London. The contrast is in Claire Childs’ lighting – primary colours backlight the set and silhouette the mundane against a blaze of intensity, changing as the central power struggle twists and turns. One moment Bannell’s Jekyll is in charge, diminished and feeble, but with a razor-sharp focus to the detriment of all else. The next moment Bannell physically expands; broader shoulders and a sinister arrogance come upon his countenance as Edward Hyde makes his presence known. Bannell is able to effect the change more fluidly as the play progresses, simulating the ease with which one character’s dominance starts to suffocate the other.
But The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde in many ways is as much about the duality of good and evil inherent in romantic interest Eleanor (Paige Round) as it is in the eponymous duo. Round’s voice forlornly echoes across the stage at poignant moments, folk song providing emotional anguish amid the ongoing violence and bloodshed. Her dilemma is one known all too well when it comes to matters of the heart – on the one hand is dependable, doting husband Hastings (a subservient Ashley Sean-Cook); on the other is the darkness inhabiting Dr Jekyll even before his alter ego emerges. The romantic quartet makes for a captivating watch, Eleanor (Round) torn between faithfulness, intelligent connection and overwhelming, terrifying lust. Lane’s production draws this out however; it would benefit from more punctuated, powerful exchanges to force the story to progress.
The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde is a production that suits the GCSE syllabus well. It covers themes of obsession for one’s work; the battle for morality within; the ethics of scientific progression; even the inevitable battle for existence, a fight or flight complex. Lane merges several polarising topics into a well-rounded show, complete with clever performances from all involved. To see Blackeyed Theatre fast becoming a company that tackles Gothic tales is refreshing to see, whether that is their mission statement or not.
Adapter/ Director: Nick Lane
Writer: Robert Louis Stevenson
Composer: Tristan Parkes
Producer: Adrian McDougall with Blackeyed Theatre
Design: Victoria Spearing; Naomi Gibbs (costume); Claire Childs (lighting)
Cast: Jack Bannell; Zach Lee; Paige Round; Ashley Sean-Cook
Image courtesy of Alex Harvey-Brown
The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde tours until 24 March 2018. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.