Rose Theatre Kingston and Touring Consortium Theatre Company’s Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde currently at Nottingham Theatre Royal Tuesday 20 – Saturday 24 March 2018 proves a mixed bag of dramatic entertainment. The play is adapted by David Edgar from the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson. The original novella has a body count purely made up of male characters and director Kate Saxon’s production and Edgar’s text sees an introduction of female roles into the story. This is all to the good in a play most definitely of two quite distinct halves.
The first half begins well with some of male actors narrating the story and the mystery of the locked door. Dr Jekyll (Phil Daniels) appears in friendly discussion with his sister Katherine (Polly Frame) and her two children Lucy (Rosie Abraham) and Charles (Anyebe Godwin). The children are played by adults and whilst Rosie Abraham makes a passable girl Mr Godwin is far too tall and his big collar costume looks silly on him and like something from a panto. No offence to the gentleman but this element of casting and costumery is stranger than the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde itself. Grace Hogg- Robinson is outstanding as the new maid with a history of abuse, Annie Loder.
Once in the drawing room the non- action becomes ponderous with the dry text becoming a mini lecture on the nature of civility and the Victorian attitude to the dual nature of human beings according to the medical science understanding of the human psyche of the time. This is all spun out through, presumably lifted chunks of dialogue, from R.L Stevenson’s original novella. There is far too much telling and alas, little showing. Thankfully, Poole the butler (Sam Cox) is also there to provide much needed lightness and sarcasm and a fair old representation of butler-hood in the late 1880s. Sam Cox’s subtle performance is one of the highlights of the show.
The clever set design by Simon Higlett takes us from location to location and the changes are generally swiftly executed and often accompanied by atmospheric singing by the excellent Rosie Abraham who also plays Lucy and the maid. Some of the sung text is a bit odd in libretto but generally, it enhances the Gothic nature of the story. Mark Jonathan’s lighting design adds greatly to the mood of the play as do Richard Hammarton’s compositions and sound.
In the credible male support roles we have Dr Lanyon/Carew (Ben Jones), Utterson (Robin Kingsland) and as Enfield/Parson (Matthew Romain). In the central role/s we have Phil Daniels as both Dr Henry Jeykll and Mr Edward Hyde.
Daniels is a fine actor but the production decision to have him play the evil murdering Edward Hyde, the way he does, proves critically negative to the success of the show. With no change in make up and little in costume, his Edward Hyde comes across, not as an unrecognisable monster of a man, but as Dr Jeykll impersonating a very, in yer face, annoying, very drunk Scotsman with a growling voice and a countenance distorted with anger. As much as this depiction might work in another play about such a drunken and libidinous character the change from Jekyll to Hyde unfortunately doesn’t ring true in this reviewer’s opinion. The murders are adequately staged but lack an edge of terror to frighten and thrill the audience. A bone cracking sound effect gives the audience a rare opportunity to respond.
The second half is a distinct improvement on the dry nature of the first but the audience sympathies lay with the women in the cast whose natures and outcomes David Edgar makes clear and redeems the short but dated play somewhat.
Reviewer: Phil Lowe.