Frankenstein, Dracula, Dorian Gray, and Dr. Jekyll. These exquisitely sinister classics emerged only slowly and stealthily from the underbelly of Victorian literature, but they’ve continued to grow in stature till they’ve become better known than most mainstream novels of the time.
To this day they continue to enthral and fascinate their readers. Not to mention the millions who’ve seen film and theatre versions of them.
They share not just a common curriculum of horror, but combine elements of mystery, crime, and the supernatural with a strong moral message.
Of the four novels Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Key Theatre, Jan 30)is probably the least sensational. It has few characters and is written in an almost detached way, as if its distinguished author was leaving it to others to add in more characters, more subplots and, needless to say, more horrifying incidents.
This adaptation by Nick Lane does exactly that, by creating new personalities and situations, playing down the transformation scenes from Jekyll to Hyde, and focusing instead on mood and atmosphere. Never more so than in the opening scene with its dreary set, subdued costumes, sinister background music and lighting, and blood red backdrop, all of them contributing to an unmistakable feeling of dread. This was realised most spectacularly in the motiveless murder of a bystander by Mr. Hyde at the end of Act One. Played out in slow motion by Jack Bannell this was first-rate theatre, even if its brutality wasn’t for the faint-hearted.
However it’s good to report that Jack’s performance went beyond merely murdering people! His compelling stage presence, magnificent thespian voice, and darkly romantic looks all contributed to the portrait of a man irrevocably split in two. As Dr. Jekyll, appalled by the stirrings of Mr. Hyde within him. As Mr. Hyde, impatient of Dr. Jekyll’s efforts to curb his excesses.
Zach Lee as the lawyer Utterson made a perfect foil to the schizoid and hysterical Jekyll and, acting as narrator, helped move the play forward. As Dr. Lanyon, Ashley Sean-Cook was at his best in the early scenes of the play where he protests against Jekyll’s desire to split the human personality into two.
I was less convinced by a brand new character introduced into the plot. Eleanor Lanyon is a singer who becomes Hyde’s lover and champion, reversing the tradition that Hyde’s mistresses become the victims of his savagery and sadism. Paige Round played Eleanor with a slightly theatrical Irish accent but also contributed some strategically placed songs.
REVIEW: JOE CONWAY
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Blackeyed Theatre, January 30, Key Theatre