Adapted for stage by Neil Bartlett, the gothic tale of Jekyll and Hyde brings shivers to the Tuesday night audience at Derby Theatre. With a running time of under 2 hours, including the interval, this is a short, but impactful voyage into Victorian Britain where the gentlemen’s club is in full swing, protecting each other through money and status. This portrayal of male toxicity is made all the more profound in this production through the introduction of a new, female character, Dr Stevenson, who is qualified enough to work alongside the gentlemen, but stands apart with the girl, who has been given much more of a presence in this production, and a serving lady. These three women work together to discover the identity of the murderous Mr Hyde and expose the elite criminal underbelly of society where man is arrogant enough to play God.
The concept of Dr Jekyll, the gentleman, and Mr Hyde, the monstrous alter-ego, is well known but lesser known is the nuances and direction of the plot. In some places, the plot does become a little confusing, but I found myself enthralled nevertheless. There is something in the production that means that you just don’t want to tear your eyes from the stage. The set design (Jessica Curtis) is simple, almost like a scientific lecture theatre, with different levels which are used well by the actors. The only part of the stage that moves, is the door which highlights the importance of things that are hidden away, out of sight. The lighting (Simeon Miller) compliments the story incredibly well, and I particularly liked the contrast between warmth and cold.
The play opens with choral speaking from five gentleman who are pivotal, not only to the story, but the overall vision of the director (Sarah Brigham). The innovative and intoxicating duality of their roles is what really takes this production to the next level, and the actors playing these roles are simply superb in their ability to switch from jovial to sneering (highlighted by the lighting design) and from naturalistic performance to physical theatre. The serpent-like hissing and group pain that they endure certainly adds a layer of spine-chilling supernaturalism to the experience. Dr Lanyon (Charlie Buckland), The Inspector (James Morrell), Mr Enfield (Craig Painting), Mr Guest (Levi Payne) and Mr Utterson (Robert Vernon) are an intimidating presence. They are not just there to represent the patriarchal society, but also to highlight the pain and suffering, both physical and psychological, of Dr Jekyll. As this group of gentlemen writhe in agony, and despair, the true horror of the story is plainly laid out. These scenes, performed with such raw energy and revulsion, will remain in the memories of the many young people who attended this performance and will undoubtedly enrich their Jekyll and Hyde response in their GCSEs.
Starting out as merely a shadow atop the staging, Dr Jekyll (Nichols Shaw) is an eerie presence. As the audience is presented with exposition on the stage, Jekyll looks on, unseen, barely moving. Indeed, at times the audience forgets he is even there, but than a flicker brings your attention back to what seems to be an omniscient presence. As the light gently catches Jekyll’s shadowed face, it is a face of insanity. Shaw has huge range which he demonstrates fully tonight as the good natured and cheerful Jekyll transforms into a deformed creature with goblin-like stature and Gollum-like movements. The audience is suddenly moved from realism to fantasy as Hyde’s wicked voice threatens and terrifies. The juxtaposition of the two characters is blatant, but Shaw also presents more nuanced changes to Jekyll following the discovery of his potion as he becomes more arrogant, angrier and decidedly less moral as he tries to convince that the actions of Hyde are not his fault – the man is clearly deluded!
Dr Stevenson (Polly Lister) is the physical representation of the reader in this adaptation and carries the plotline forward through her questioning nature and refusal to give up on finding the truth. Lister presents a trustworthy character, which works in opposition to the gentlemen, all of whom are under suspicion, The girl (Tife Kusoro) is fierce and makes an unlikely sidekick for Dr Stevenson – Kusuro plays the angry and curious girl with energy and determination. Matron/Mrs Poole (Hilary Greatorex) may not have the most speaking lines, but it is these ever-present, sometimes unobserved characters who hold the key to discovery.
There are some surreal moments in the production which drag the audience out of the sordid London streets. I will say nothing more on this, except to say that there is a Magic Consultant (Philip Bond) listed in the programme. The acapella singing was also a great surprise for me as the cast eerily sing the jolly “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner” adding to the sinister atmosphere on stage. The top hat murder-dance scene is also worthy of mention because of how shockingly violent the choreography by Deb Pugh is. It reminded this reviewer of the sadistic pleasure of Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange. Chilling!
This production of Jekyll and Hyde has been extraordinarily well put together, and where you may sometimes lose the plot (excuse the Jekyll pun), the staging, the acting, the singing and the choreography are guaranteed to bring you right back, often unblinking, to the darkness of one scientist’s journey into despair.