Sunday, 21 March 2010

Jekyll & Hyde

Had a fine evening out, yesterday, watching The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde staged by European Arts Company at Quay Arts Centre, Isle of Wight. This refreshingly brisk adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novella is a stylised comedy-horror that makes the best of such a low-budget production’s technical limitations with highly judicious use of special effects, and sees the whole cast also performing well-choreographed stagehand duties, adding ironic humour to this charmingly inventive minimalist recreation of the classic Victorian gaslight stalker tale. 

William Hartley plays Henry Jekyll as simpering yet ‘mad’ doctor, all repressed desire and nervous tics, who’s even cowed by haughty butler Poole (Arthur James, who also plays a publican and two other characters). Of course, just a risky tipple later, he transforms - via simple but effective theatricality of a garish waistcoat and swaggering demeanour - into untamed London lothario, egotistically prone to violence with murderous intent.

An introductory/ wraparound meta-narrative, concerning US actor Richard Mansfield (who portrayed Jekyll & Hyde at London’s Lyceum in 1888, until the Whitechapel murders forced the play’s closure), gives repertory veteran Richard Latham his first of five secondary parts. Unlike Stevenson’s original story, which contains no female characters, this stage version features Jennifer Bryden, also playing five different roles, including Jekyll’s sister.

Despite some excellent comic timing, many of the jokes do tend to be witty (tincture as viagra tonic!) rather than hilarious. The first hour is largely good-natured fun and games (some clever business with Jekyll’s housecat, and the return ‘train journey’ to Scotland, is particularly amusing), while the second act is much less campy, delving a lot deeper into Freudian dramas that reveal psychotic alpha-male Hyde’s predatory nature, and permits a range of more ‘adult’ themes (including incest) to be explored.

The company’s play is on a tour of small theatres in UK (throughout March, April, and May, this year) and is certainly worthwhile entertainment.

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