Jekyll & Hyde

Since its first publication in 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has been adapted for stage, cinema and television hundreds of times. Its popularity among adaptors is in part thanks to its innate flexibility; Stevenson ethically complex presentation of “dissociative identity disorder” has always left plenty of room for others to fill with their own social, political and cultural ideas.

The script, however, is this show’s major failing, not least in its misfiring attempt to update Jekyll’s Victorian world with cash-machines and suggestions of criminal executions being on pay-per-view (with all profits going to Children In Need).

Which, in part, is why this unfortunate misfire of a production by Sell a Door Theatre Company is so disappointing; attempting to expand and recast Stevenson’s tale as a wider warning against scientific orthodoxies which negate any responsibility for their consequences, Jo Clifford’s script is on occasions so cack-handed in its info-dumping, so amateurishly scatter-gun in its vision of “an alternative London of the future”– er, how can you even have an “alternative” to something which hasn’t happened yet? –that this production needs a captivating star turn to carry the audience along.

Sadly, while there is indeed an outstanding performer on stage, Rowena Lennon is not the lead; she may have plenty of opportunities to show off her flexibility and range (from a weary Dr Lanyon to a hostile Eastern European bodyguard and asomewhat naive audience member who volunteers for Hyde’s music hall-esquedemonstration of his torturous proclivities), but it’s not enough to save the show.

Clifford has, like many other adaptators, gone for a linear telling of the narrative where the dramatic tension comes from the rising conflict between Jekyll/Hyde as well as the prospect of justice finally catching up with both. With little direct sense of the growing public abhorrence of Hyde, there is little hope of the latter; Nathan Ives-Moiba's lithe, gymnastic portrayal, meantime, is sadly too emotionally one-dimensional to engage much audience sympathy with either Jekyll (a velvet-coated dandy with a new Romantic love of frilled shirts and lean flesh) or his wicked-grinned, fake-Cockney Hyde.

That, in itself, is a worrying artistic decision on either Clifford’s or director David Hutchinson’s part; that a malign working class Hyde is contrasted with Jekyll’s well-spoken philanthropy. However, Clifford alone must carry responsibility for ensuring that the only two of Jekyll/Hyde’s victims we see on stage are both woman –the desperate “audience member”, and a gender-switched Lanyon, disgustingly given the added “burden” of physical impairment.

That said, much of the production of the show is excellent: Richard Evans’revolving set – all scaffolding, steps and a cogs motif – enables some inventive choreography alone to distinguish between scenes, while Charlie Morgan Jones’atmospheric lighting does wonders.

The script, however, is this show’s major failing, not least in its misfiring attempt to update Jekyll’s Victorian world with cash-machines and suggestions of criminal executions being on pay-per-view (with all profits going to Children In Need). These touches are achronistic in a world that still feels Victorian, with dialogue that sounds clunky to modern ears. Worst of all, how can anyone believe in a 2020 world where no one has ever heard of Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Reviews by Paul Fisher Cockburn


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The Blurb

Robert Louis Stevenson’s cult classic Jekyll and Hyde is reinterpreted in this modern adaptation set in an alternative London of the future, written by Jo Clifford and multi award-winning touring company Sell a Door.

A devoted man of science, Dr. Henry Jekyll is a high-profile cancer specialist, determined to find the chemical breakthrough that will solve mankind’s most challenging medical uncertainties.

Jekyll’s controversial research results in the creation of an unintentional strain of drug which entirely alters the patient’s personality. Making himself the subject of his own experimental treatments, Jekyll accidentally unleashes his ultimate inner demon in the process: the infamous Mr. Hyde.

Trapped in a corporate world, Dr. Jekyll struggles to keep hold of his own identity as he revels in the freedom and chaos of his hideous alter ego.

When Jekyll’s closest friend begins to suspect that he is unwittingly tied up in the recent gruesome murders on the streets of London, Jekyll must choose between his scientific break-through, and the impending breakdown of his own existence – but is the choice still in his hands?

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