Blackeyed Theatre presents a startling fresh take on the classic tale of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a take that offers more depth to both the titular characters and explores the legacy of Dr Jekyll’s work, but is let down by some poor staging choices.
The classic story of the duality of man is made startling relevant here once again. As Henry Jekyll is on the verge of a neurological breakthrough, but as his methods become less and less ethical and his friend and college Hastings Lanyon threatens to expose him, Jekyll is forced is forced to experiment on himself creating the vicious Edward Hyde. All the while another friend, Gabriel Utterson, judges the series of increasingly strange events in a bid to discover the identity of Hyde. Though this rendition introduces the character of Eleanor Lanyon, wife of Hastings but secret lover of Jekyll, and ultimately Hyde – it is this character that helps humanise the events of the story, adding the intangible feelings of lust and love into the story.
Director Nick Lane is not unfamiliar with the dark gritty Victorian tales, having adapted and directed Frankenstein previously; he brings across much of the tone and levity of the times in the dialogue and interaction between the characters, though it is the performers themselves that really sell the piece. Jack Bannel in the titular role(s) of Jekyll and Hyde goes through a wide ranging berth of emotions, from Jekyll’s lowest points as he breaks down and cries to Hyde’s more frightening and violent moments, Bannel does a fine job switching freely between the two roles changing both tone and posture as he does, it almost feels as though a different actor has come upon the stage. The only weakeness I found within his role was projection, at times I could not make out what was being said despite being sat near the front of stage, I’d hate to think what those at the back of the auditorium could hear. Paige Round as Eleanor Lanyon acts in many ways as the audience’s viewpoint, as she winds up Jekyll into giving her a tour of his laboratory and experiments despite being only a songbird from Ireland, before long Jekyll comes to see her as an equal to which few others can stand in his regard. Round’s performance brings the character to life as she is torn apart by Jekyll’s descent into madness, her character also offers a fresh look into the caged life of women of high society and their desire to escape it. Utterson is portrayed by Zach Lee; the character feels much like he does in the original novel acting as both a narrator and character within the piece, he is clear and concise driving the story forward when it’s needed. It is Ashley Sean-Cook’s Hastings that rounds up the cast, as he plays the weak willed, traditionalist who feels his work can never stand up to that of his peers but believes himself to be a good man. The play left me questioning whether he was by the end; despite all the horrific events he is put through he was still very much portrayed as the Victorian gentleman who believed women should simply sit there and look pretty.
The only major criticism to be given to the production is down to its odd choice of staging; the set up is quite basic offering a Victorian style room which is easily switched between theatre, office, laboratory and many others – this in itself is fine. However the stage design was smaller than the stage is was set on, leaving large opening flanks on either side, as characters left through the stage back doors you’d see them slip around the back and into the wings; a somewhat distracting prospect.
Overall this is a thrilling take on a classic story, bringing in modern ideas to a darker time, while ultimately it is the performers themselves that sell the piece.