Jekyll and Hyde
This relatively new theatrical alternative version of Jekyll and Hyde created originally by Evan Placey after R L Stevenson for the National Youth Theatre in 2017 finds itself at The Lace Market Theatre this week running until 12th March 2022. It is claimed to be a radical re-imagining of R L Stevenson’s story taking place after Dr Jeykll’s death.
It is a mash up of Victorian England and the modern day and explores how the repression of female voices is as prevalent in the 19th Century as it is today. The story centres around two main protagonists, Harriet, Jekyll’s widow and Florence, a young blogger in the 21st Century. As we see these two narratives unfold the audience are confronted by the power the internet holds to unleashing our own inner ultra violent Hydes. That in itself is open to question and down to individual usage and abuse. Its main themes are male indifference in a patriarchal society to morality, sexuality and female equality, progression and a gross lack of medical care re Irish doctors refusing to give abortions. The two female leads find their own vindictive ways of dealing with these atrocious behaviours. Well, that’s the gist of it and a fine premise for a play but does it work as a piece of theatre. And was there really a Mrs Jeykll? From my memory the kindly but haunted Dr Jeykll was engaged to a Miss Carew.
One assumes that this play was written during the time that all the UK theatre dramaturgs were on their annual leave together, like Players’ Fortnight used to be, because its structure leaves rather a lot be desired, especially in the first half. The second half reads and is acted much more along the solid lines of a compelling play about sexual politics and acts of murder. It starts well enough, opening, as it does, in a circus tent with the lady tiger tamer (Emma Carlton) controlling the vicious tigers that surround her and threaten to pounce and kill at any second. There is a promising emblematic atmosphere set here. Then the Victorian England illusion is broken as a young woman in modern dress (Clare Moss as Florence) crosses the playing space to sit in the dark brooding over a computer tablet for the entire first act.
Mrs Harriet Jeykll (Emily Shillan) tries to get her own scientific discoveries accepted by the male only chief scientists of the time but is rebuffed and ends up taking her own serum (classic literature repeating itself) and turns into the female version of the evil Hyde. Although how nobody recognises her bad girl alter ego from her just donning a pair of red fingerless gloves and letting her hair down with some flourish and relief and adopting a malevolent side is beyond belief. Frequenting a local pub/ brothel she goes on a vengeful killing spree of menfolk who have grieved her or other women. Evan Placey doesn’t just consider female harassment but adds a short section about homosexual victimisation as an older closet homosexual Judge, played with repressed guilt and anger by Max Bromley, buggers, then blames a young male prostitute for his nature and culpability.
The writer’s notion of proverbially flicking out bits of modern-day media speak and internet adverts whether actually spoken in the middle of Victorian dialogue or back projected on to a screen above doesn’t really work in advancing or enhancing the story. Whilst, in retrospect, I guess it is supposed to show links between the 19th Century and a 21st Century socially saturated by the internet. However, at the time of onstage action it acts (for me) as a critical confusion to the story-telling. Why a ‘tell us a corny joke now’ section is left in is totally unexplainable. It cheapens the show’s message and is utterly pointless. There is also the questioned mention of the name Gestapo which Harriet Jeykll lets slip and dismisses as a ‘word I heard somewhere’.
Where Placey chooses in some places to make her character’s language quite ripe there is an odd occasion in act two where, under police investigation, Florence uses the F word. She actually says “Eff off!” where “Fuck off” would have been more convincing and less coy. It is in these and more aspects, of confused and out of place communication in the stage directions and text, that this reviewer is beginning to lose the plot. But, as they say, this is only one person’s opinion. I just feel they destroy any credibility in the piece as a dramatic work that purports to be feminist led and taken seriously. It may be billed as intense and multi-layered but whether Placey’s play gives us any kind of answers to the plight of women in both centuries when the resultant action is wholly in support of the glorification of fatal violence is doubtful. Maybe that is the question the piece should be asking – does brutal violence to the point of death solve anything, even if, like Florence in the play, the violent person isn’t actually the perpetrator but the instigator of anti-male violence forming and organising a death squad female collective on the internet. Death caused at a distance vs a brutal stabbing. Are they to be judged as the same?
On the plus side it is great to see some fresh faces on The Lace Market stage. The direction by Beverly Anthony uses plenty of the theatre space, often bringing the actors into the auditorium. The lead actors give credible performances in this adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde, especially in the gripping second half. The supporting actors are best in the convincing crowd scenes as the Feminists are heckled and abused by the ignorant sexist males of the time.
Despite my criticisms I would say it is worth seeing and maybe you can make up your own mind about the multi layered themes of Jekyll and Hyde as penned by Evan Placey.