Therefore, in his private laboratory, Dr Jekyll creates a potion that he trusts will suppress the evil within him. Yet his experiment has the reverse effect, and, in fact, Dr Jekyll unleashes his darker soul and transforms into the younger, smaller, heartless and ruthless Edward Hyde, who slowly becomes the more dominant personality, leading to mayhem and murder in the centre of Victorian London.
Most of us know the basic plot of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, not necessarily from the original novel, as there have been many adaptations of the story in every form of media, from radio to comic book. However, it would be fair to say that the film adaptations of the novel that has introduced many to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, with the classic scene of the Doctor drinking from a smoking flask, full of colourful liquid, in a dark and sinister laboratory, screams out in pain, falls to the floor, and when the Doctor gets up it is clear that he has transformed into something evil.
Allegedly Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote the novel in a six-day cocaine binge, ‘That an invalid in my husband's condition of health should have been able to perform the manual labour alone of putting 60,000 words on paper in six days, seems almost incredible’, Stevenson’s wife Fanny, remarked after her husband’s creative flair. There has and still will be an academic dispute over Stevenson’s drug use, as Wikipedia is dismissive about it, I am going to believe that Stevenson did use cocaine. Therefore, aggressive mood swings must have been in abundance with Stevenson during this period, as erratic, sometimes violent behaviour is certainly one of the many negative side effects of cocaine.
Furthermore, Stevenson was not only fascinated by dual personalities within an individual, he was captivated how people held in high social standing could lead a double life. Prior to penning The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Stevenson wrote a play about William Brodie, 28th September 1741 – 1st October 1788, an Edinburgh city councillor by day, housebreaker by night. I suppose these days city councillors don’t have to go into the night with a swag bag, they are just creative with their accounts and exploiting fines for littering. We do know that little, if any, of the money imposed by councils for littering, goes back into the community, that is real daylight robbery. Anyway, the play was not successful but Stevenson, a native of Edinburgh, carried the double life concept of William Brodie into Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is certainly impregnated into classic and popular culture, as well as the expression, ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ when referring to someone with severe mood swings.
As a fan of Phil Daniels, theatre. horror and the story Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, it was a no-brainer for me when I saw The Consortium Theatre Company were touring with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, starring Phil Daniels, adapted by David Edgar and directed by Kate Saxon.
As you enter the theatre you get a sense of something sinister and unsettling as the stage is bleak and macabre that resembles an ominous poorly lit alleyway which causes you tremendous concern as you know you must walk through it in order to get home as you have no other choice. Above the main set is a balcony that equals the scenery of distress. As the house lights dim and the stage lights go up, two men stand on the balcony, Dr Lanyon (Ben Jones) and Utterson (Robin Kingsland), Jekyll’s best friend and the narrator in the novel, both give a summary of what lies ahead.
A bright white light shines on stage left, a young beggar girl stands there, who is pleading with passers-by to buy her matches. Behind her, a menacing figure approaches draped in the traditional Victorian villain attire of a cloak and a large top hat. As the potential attacker gets within touching distance of the beggar girl there is a thud, the lights brighten and the audience gasps, a great piece of interactive theatre.
The beggar girl and her would be attacker, are in fact brother and sister, Annie (Grace Hogg Robinson) and Charles (Anyebe Godwin), who are acting out a self-penned brutal play to their rather concerned mother, Katherine (Polly Frame). As Katherine tells her children of her disapproval, a chirpy Dr Jekyll (Phil Daniels) enters the stage, which is now a pleasant living room, quite a contrast from the opening, to see what all the commotion is about. It quickly transpires that Dr Jekyll is Katherine’s brother, therefore the children’s uncle.
Dr Jekyll is visiting his family in Edinburgh from London on pleasure, to discuss their late father, and for Jekyll to take back to London some of his father’s heirlooms, which includes the large top hat worn by Charles, a painting, and his father’s journal, who was also a doctor. As Jekyll and Katherine converse, she mentions to her brother of her new-found hobby photography, and how a photograph can tell you of someone’s inner soul. Katherine states she has always seen a darkness within her brother. Dr Jekyll dismisses Katherine’s assumption. The short scene which follows is that of Jekyll on the balcony waiting for the train back to London, reading out loud his deceased father’s journal, who was experimenting with chemicals to overcome the darkness within a man’s soul. The nightmarish journey now begins for Dr Jekyll…...
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde entertains like a classic pre-gore horror film, engaging like a psychological thriller and empathetic like a classic drama. Daniels, who as Jekyll, produces a convincing Scottish accent, and it’s the first time for me I have ever heard him perform with a regional pronunciation. I believe making Jekyll Scottish was a homage to Robert Louise Stevenson, and so when Daniels becomes Mr Hyde, Hyde’s London accent is just one of the reminders to the audience of the dual personalities on stage. Along with the different intonations, Daniels creates two people, without the use of makeup or visual effects, by posture, facial expressions, tones, emotions and wearing ill-fitting clothes for Hyde. Daniels gives a raw, balanced, resounding and robust performance as a man doing battle with his evil persona.
Along with Daniels, the strong and talented cast contribute so much to this tour de force, making Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde a strong piece of modern theatre. I do believe that some of the characters are symbolic of the positive aspects in life that we neglect, dismiss and at times are hostile to, and in turn, can lead us down the road to self-destruction. For instance, Poole (Sam Cox) Jekyll’s butler, is loyalty, Annie (Grace Hogg Robinson) and Charles (Anyebe Godwin) is optimism. Utterson (Robin Kingsland) is friendship, Katherine (Polly Frame) is love, and Lucy (Rosie Abraham) his sister’s runaway servant, is belief. But as Mr Hyde becomes the stronger force within Jekyll he viciously pushes them away, and in some cases, like Katherine and Lucy, he is extremely cruel to them, a classic case of hurting the people we love. Edgar and Saxon created Lucy and Katherine especially for their production as they wanted to bring strong female leads into the story.
The Consortium Theatre Company’s adaptation of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is an all-around wonderful piece of theatre, from the sets, lighting, acting, all combining to produce a memorable, moving and thrilling play. Furthermore, like any good film, book, play, painting or a piece of music, there are aspects that make a strong impact on the individual. For me, I saw it as a cautionary tale of self-doubt and self-destruction, heightened by inner demons, which can be resolved, yet we are too oblivious and angry to see that a positive change is achievable, and within reach.
On tour until 19th May 2018, it’s an experience you won’t forget.
Jekyll and Hyde | Touring Consortium Theatre Company
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