Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde transforms the King’s Theatre Edinburgh into Victorian London of the 1880s for one week only (Tue 10 to Sat 14 April) with a production based on the world famous novella by one of Edinburgh’s best known sons – Robert Louis Stevenson. The King’s Theatre may be just a few decades later in construction than when this tale is set, but it retains more than enough original features to add to that period feeling that set and costume designer Simon Higlett has so convincingly created on stage.
This production from Touring Consortium Theatre Company is directed by Kate Saxon and stars Phil Daniels as our titular Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and his is a powerful performance that concentrates quite rightly more on the changes in mind than body between Jekyll and Hyde as the transformation from one to the other takes longer and longer to achieve. Phil Daniels is an actor a long way from the “Quadrophenia” film that many of us still associate him with, and in the years since that role has built an impressive body of of work into his resume, and that solid reputation as a very good stage actor is more than justified in this performance.
Jekyll and Hyde is one of the world’s best known stories, and one that so many people are convinced that they have read, but instead it is one of the many film, stage or television adaptations that they actually know, and none of these (including this production) is the original story. The mark of a great story is always that it can be re-told and added to in so many different combinations whilst still retaining its original core, and this is one of those great stories. Robert Louis Stevenson’s idea that we are dual personalities was far from new when written, but the difference was timing…this was the era of the medical world just starting to recognise and start to grasp many of the conditions that now fall under modern “mental health diagnosis”. I have a deep belief that we are all at a most basic level multiple personalities and, a little bit like a faceted jewel, we all present a different face of ourselves that we want different people to see. No one, perhaps not even ourselves ever gets to see the whole person, and this story on stage skilfully lets us as an audience see different sides of a person that we rarely get to see in anyone.
David Edgar has, as adapter of this story, added (as many have done before) his own elements to this story. The addition of identifiable female characters including the maid and Jekyll’s widowed sister in the country and her children work for me on different levels – some good and some not so good. Our new adaptation of the story also takes elements from the original and from contemporary social issues of the time and tries to find a relevance to them in modern day life. Again, this works well sometimes, but trying to examine the past to its relevance to today is always going to be a problem as we always have to view the issues from our own contemporary moral and social viewpoint. The problem is that time itself and the period that we are in shapes our thoughts here just as much as they shaped Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde and “their” thoughts
Polly Frame is very good in her role as Katherine, the widowed sister of Dr Jekyll, but the removal of our story line from its far darker setting of foggy and “gothic” London, although very intentional in its contrast, is not working for me as it breaks up the suspense of the storyline. Also, for me, there is nothing believable that Lucy (Rosie Abraham), Charles (Anyebe Godwin) and Katherine are family. There is however an interesting insight into the younger lives of Dr Jekyll and Katherine that sheds a lot of light onto the later persona of Mr Hyde.
One female addition to the story line that does work for me is the maid “Annie”, and Grace Hogg-Robinson puts in a performance that steals a lot of the show, along with fine performances from Sam Cox as Poole and Robin Kingsland as Utterson.
Matthew Romain, Rosie Abraham (also playing the singer and a maid), and Ben Jones also give good performances here to add to the atmosphere of the work, but their characters are less well defined than the others giving them limited opportunities to shine.
For many stage performances, good technical aspects of the show often get little attention, they are simply there and are over-shadowed by the physical performance on stage. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is not one of those performances, and here, the set is just as much a part of the story as any actor, and Simon Higlett has with an imaginative use of a split level design allowed the outside and inside elements of this story to be told with style and minimal stage re-setting. Very good lighting and sound design (Mark Jonathan and Peter Hammarton) are also crucial to the gothic setting and story telling here. Richard Hammarton is also the composer of the music here, and like everything else in this story, it is part of the narrative.
If you like Victorian Gothic horror then this is a show for you. Is it a great adaptation of the original story, I’m not sure of that, but it is a very, very good one, and to be fair to anyone trying to work with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the many film and television versions of the story are probably now so firmly rooted into people’s memories that trying to do a straight performance of the original work would be unrecognisable to so many people now.
Some nice touches here too such as the sounds of late Victorian London being heard throughout the auditorium as you entered tonight, but was one of those sounds an electrified tramcar?
Review by Tom King