Review: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The Albany Theatre. Coventry

The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
Albany Theatre
7 – 8 February 2022

Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella “Jekyll & Hyde” has provided inspiration for countless interpretations over the years, from silent films through to modern-day TV series, and the very phrase itself has become part of everyday language to describe someone or something that has two distinct aspects.  The play famously speaks to the duality of man’s nature, a manifestation of the idea that everyone has good and evil within them, however they may appear on the surface. The play also raises questions of morality and ‘playing God’, asking at what point Man begins to interfere with ‘God’s will’ when power and obsession take over.  Stevenson’s novel, although overly wordy and yet narratively slight, grabbed the world’s attention with the trump card in its final reveal; that the characters of Dr Henry Jekyll & Mr Edward Hyde are in fact the same man, driven by different impulses (not a spoiler, it’s 136 years old). Today, this twist is so well known that directors and adapters have to find new ways of making the story gripping even though the audience are in on the “secret” from fairly early on.

Although remaining largely faithful to the original text, this production by the Blackeyed Theatre Company gives Dr Jekyll a framework for his behaviour, giving him a passion for the exploration of neuroscience and its potential application for good. However, his methods turn questionable as his obsession grows, his darker traits begin to emerge, and Hyde is born. Adapted by Nick Lane, this is a more satisfying journey for Jekyll than in the novel, and is very effective.  The divided selves of Jekyll & Hyde are contrasted well: Jekyll’s benevolence against Hyde’s cruelty, and Jekyll’s physical weakness compared to Hyde’s brute strength. It also fleshes out more of Hyde’s personality and agenda (only described from Jekyll’s perspective in the book). Hearing his desires in his own words is far more effective and makes for some chilling moments, particularly the slow-motion murder that closes the first act, with its sinister movements and dramatic red lighting which really raises the pulse.

Performances from the cast are strong throughout, with all actors playing several roles. Female characters have been brought into this adaptation, a change from Stevenson’s vision, but which help lend the story a great deal more light and shade, and also highlighting the social standing of women in 19th Century England. Paige Round is wonderfully charming as Irish immigrant Eleanor, whose affair with Jekyll (and Hyde!) acts as a catalyst for the rest of the divided man’s journey, as well as making a suitably entertaining prostitute (meant as a compliment). Zach Lee and Ashley Sean-Cook also give excellent support in their main roles of Utterson and Hastings respectively, along with the smaller ensemble characters.  Critically, any production of ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ lives or dies on its central performance of the man and his monster, and Blake Kubena excels here. Charming and gentle as Jekyll, seductive and menacing as Hyde, he skilfully transitions between both characters and never has you questioning who’s words he’s speaking, even despite minimal physical changes to his appearance. His anguished first transformation into Hyde is also well delivered, and his final moments as Jekyll are touching.

Musical compositions by Tristan Parkes are incredibly effective at creating a chilling gothic atmosphere, and create goosebumps at key moments in the story. The set is simple but effective, although a lack of any major scene changes does tend to make the play feel static and longer than it perhaps should. This is particularly noticeable in the second half, where the pace also drops and the play begins to outstay its running time a little. The fine performances carry it through, but pacing does become the play’s main flaw; a few nips and tucks to remove 15 minutes or so would benefit the overall production significantly.

The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde is midway through its UK tour, playing until May 2022.
Performance runtime 2 hours 30 minutes including interval.

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