Reviewed by George Neal (16)
When a take on a popular play includes two adults acting as children, and a twisted altered self is played like a drunk Scotsman, you might expect this version of Jekyll and Hyde to be a miss - but it ends up providing a very fresh and overall cleverly executed version of the beloved story.
Performed in Nottingham Royal Theatre and directed by Kate Saxon, this version of the well-known classic adds some gripping and intriguing new elements to the material while never departing from the classic themes of gritty philosophy - and the inclusion of female characters adds some much-needed diversity and further emotional weight to the story.
In Victorian times, a professor tries to find the meaning of what truly keeps the workings of the mind together by repeatedly testing a drug on himself that twists his consciousness into the demented alternate mindset of Mr Hyde. This gradually affects his life with his sister and nephews, as well as his debating colleagues, with his traumatic history of his father seemingly fuelling the burning separation of his two identities.
The first half goes by relatively slowly, establishing the main characters, with it mostly focusing on Jekyll and his friends debating on the works of the mind. This goes by a little tiresomely even for such an intriguing concept, but it is thankfully more digestible with Sam Cox’s fantastic performance of Poole, the butler, whose much needed sarcasm and frustration amongst his humbleness makes it flow much better. Cox’s clever emotionally-inwards methods of acting, shown with his increased panic and distrust of Jekyll in the second act, is definitely one of my favourite elements of the show.
Phil Daniels provides a very intriguing and credible representation of Jekyll, starting off as a modest, humble character, who realistically starts to slip into insecurity as the play progresses. The choice of having only one actor for Hyde is highly effective, presenting the actual philosophical themes of mental instability and feeding the dark corners of the mind more front and centre, making his identical Jekyll self descending into madness more credible than focusing more on making Mr Hyde as physically over the top as possible.
Daniel’s hardest efforts to create a hugely separated other-self, descended into pits of madness and violence with no use of make-up and such, makes him seem more of a blabbering, drunk Scotsman than a twisted brute (even making his speech noticeably difficult to pick up), which arguably leaves an even more disturbing impact with his most brutal scenes, such as when he executes a politician.
Most of the performances in this play were solid for me, with every actor capturing a unique and memorable personality and development that remains set in stone. There were, however, a couple of exceptions - one being a priest, who accompanies Jekyll on a train journey, whose performance is so ridiculously over-the-top loud and angry for someone having a conversation with a stranger on a train ride it’s almost no wonder his Hyde side goes to shut him up! This does however have a nice contrast between his increasing output of goodness in passionate speech and Hyde’s increased output in evil with his transformation, but it is overdone to the point where it is a little hard to take seriously.
In terms of setting and use of effects, this is exceptionally well done, having a raised platform (taken full advantage of in varied scenarios), a well detailed lab setting with even a full wall of chemicals, with smoke effects that capture that gloomy 1800s feel, and interesting choices of scale that range from a full, cosy setting of Jekyll’s living room, to a tight, focused setting of Enfield at his desk all crammed into a corner, all, of course, pulled off with clever uses of lighting. The effect that stood out the most for me has to go the sudden dimming of all but a lamp shining above Hyde’s furious re-transitioning into Jekyll when he knocks it and sends it swinging, vaguely reflecting his mind-state.
The scenes are cleverly connected by several emotionless people dressed in full Victorian clothing that step in and out to transition props of scenes, which adds a surprisingly unique emotional feel to it rather than blackening out and having people in black moving things as fast as possible. There’s also an out-of-the-story female singer who sings haunting songs while foreseeing into the events. It’s a little over-the-top, given how the events that follow don’t exactly live up to its level of horror, but it adds a further layer of melancholic eeriness to the play as a whole.
In conclusion, I recommend seeing this fresh and gripping telling of Jekyll and Hyde. Not only does the solid acting make the classic story more digestible, but the exceptional use of effects and staging adds a layer of suspense, highlighting the deeper themes – though at times, it feels a little clichéd in its representation of Victorian England.