The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde
One of my all-time favourite novels since childhood was Robert Louis Stevenson’s intriguing tale of Dr Henry Jekyll and his metamorphosis into the ugly and cruel antithesis of all that is good and pure – Mr Edward Hyde. This story sits somewhere between the queer, freakish Grimms’ fairy tales that I absorbed from a young age and the ultra-violence portrayed in Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange” which fascinated me during my twenties. The opportunity to see this “feverish nightmare”, brought to life by directors Lucien MacDougall and Benedicte Seierup inside the grand surroundings of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, was too good an opportunity to let slip past.
Turning a 20th century definitive horror story into a fresh 21st century triumph was never going to be an easy task. Any adaptation of a classic novel requires new-fangled, innovative designs which steer close enough to the original narrative but subsequently also manages to delve into previously unvisited possibilities. Couple this with the recent watershed furore currently surrounding Charlie Higson’s own transformation of Stevenson’s tale being screened on ITV, then an interesting night awaited us.
Whether or not MacDougall and Seierup signed a pact with the devil before the show will never be known, but the dense fog served up on a bleak November day in Glasgow was befitting of the story which awaited us. Seated around the perimeter of a set which consisted solely of a bed and a short ramp, the stage was effectively a blank canvas in which the cast painted themselves upon. Using Louis’ fever to exemplary effect, Ryan Havelin awakened the “bogey dream” in which the author conjured the story from, whilst fellow cast members replayed the nightmare effect by dressing in pyjamas and dressing gowns, bare-footed the duration of the play. This illusory idea worked gloriously in welcoming Chloe-Ann Taylor’s nightmarish, bestial and somewhat hirsute portrayal of Edward Hyde opposite co-lead Conor Hinds as the likeable but pliable Dr Henry Jekyll. Using Louis cleverly as a narrator and a character within the context of some of his own feverish disintegrations, the show was capable of flitting in and out of dialogue between characters and towards audience with general ease.
What was most exceptional about the play was the sound, lighting, and inclusion of a large screen to digitalise horror scenes, the internal struggles of the psyche, and even shadow theatre to bring Hyde’s monster alive in ways that Taylor’s contorted face could not. Rumbling growls and rubber masks aside, nothing was more spine-tingling than a scene entailing a monster-under-the-bed situation which made full use of the split-screen, split-personality, and split-narrative with alarming effect. Catherine Barr’s sharp execution as Gabriel Utterson the lawyer and Colleen Cameron’s take on Dr Lanyon were refreshing female depictions of male characters within the tale that carried the story, faithful to the original text, in ways that one feels a masculine portrayal would have worked to a lesser effect. A great deal of what also worked so well in this play were the relationships – the symmetrical narration of Jekyll and Hyde, the dynamics of Louis’ little notes being passed as letters to members of cast – like online props being tweeted; a script being invoked from his sickness. Letters read from ‘living’ cast members were mirrored by the ghosts of those who had perished – echoing the warnings and concerns that had stirred inside them, prior to reaching their graves.
The music of Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra were also used to chilling effect as Hyde’s reptilian character came to the fore – a marching drumbeat in tandem with the twitching, edgy cast members who bore teeth in a freakish manner to illustrate the Satanic urges inside this creature. Just as queer at times were Havelin’s impressions of Louis, spinning into delirium, psychobabble, tongue lolling and hysterical giggles as Lanyon meets his unfortunate denouement. The parallelism between Louis, the writer, with his creations is so negligible that one struggles to divide the story from the reality – something which the Royal Conservatoire cast and production team have to take enormous credit for. Nothing is quite as scary as real life, and this four-night adaptation crams a lifetime of Hallowe’ens into a ninety-minute account of disturbing, phantasmagorical horror. Nightmares never looked so appealing. FOUR STARS
Reviewer : Stephen Watt