Greenwich Theatre 4 – 7 October, touring until 29 November and January– March 2018. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Blackeyed Theatre’s touring production of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde is suitably dark and atmospheric. Nick Lane’s adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic adds a pivotal new female character, raising questions about Jekyll’s motivations and character before Hyde surfaces.
Henry Jekyll, weak and suffering from an unnamed malady, is passionate about his research in the new field of neuroscience, convinced that chemical experimentation on the brain can affect personality and behaviour. As his animal experiments reach their limit, he begins to search the many asylums for human subjects. When his unethical and lethal experiments are discovered by a close friend, Jekyll is finally desperate enough to test his formula on himself and transforms into Edward Hyde. Hyde is physically powerful but has no morals, and his violent actions create chaos and fear.
The cast of four constantly move chairs around the stage to define different rooms in front of the wooden backdrop, and play multiple roles expertly. Huge praise on press night for the cast’s professionalism – if I were Hyde I’d have waded into the mob of GCSE students and used my cane on them. The giggling, chatting and constant unwrapping of endless supplies of sweets was a little distracting to say the least, but the cast soldiered on. It bemuses me that these teenagers can maim and kill in video and watch softporn like Game of Thrones without blinking an eye, but the sight of two fully clothed adults kissing live on stage makes them gasp and giggle like six-year olds.
Jack Bannell impresses as Jekyll and Hyde. There are no fancy tricks for the transformation between the two characters – simply an eerily convulsing giant shadow convulsing as Bannell writhes on the floor for the first occasion, followed by diminishing physical signals until Hyde and Jekyll switch with a mere shrug from Bannell. No theatrical tricks are used to disguise Hyde, Bannell simply changes his gait from a tremulous limp to an animalistic loping stride, deepens his voice a shade, and glares at the world with contempt. Ashley Sean-Cook as Hastings Lanyon is the moral compass of the play, decent and upright and full of horror at Jekyll’s cruelty to animals and humans in his experiments. His wife Eleanor Landon is an interesting character, played passionately by Paige Round. An Irish music hall singer, bored with her decent but dull husband, she gets involved with Jekyll’s research and they fall in love. It is Eleanor who goads Jekyll into taking the formula, and she and Hyde begin a physical affair. This is all just a bit soapy for me. I understand Lake was inspired by Stevenson’s wife’s strident support of her husband, but the histrionics got a little too much for me, muddying the reasons behind Jekyll’s choices. Zach Lee as lawyer/narrator Gabriel Utterson has the tough job of keeping long passages of exposition entertaining, and largely succeeds, but this is another problem for me. At least 20 minutes could be shaved off the play to tighten the narrative and stop the pace flagging. There are some tense scenes, most notably the slowmo attack by Hyde on a passing stranger, but this is a now familiar device, no matter how well it is done, and a lot of the play is taken up by dry passages directed at the audience.
Blackeyed Theatre’s adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde is a decent attempt at adding a feminine touch to the novel with strong performances all round.