Wednesday 14th March 2018 at Harrogate Theatre.
Blackeyed Theatre return to the dark depths of mankind with their production of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Much like their production of Shelley’s Frankenstein (review here), this adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel from Nick Lane is full of relish as it seeks to capture the unnerving duality of its protagonist, Dr Jekyll. The production inserts a character entirely of Lane’s creation in an interesting departure from the original; with the addition of love interest and distraction Eleanor Lanyon, this adaptation offers a female voice to a text bereft of any female influence but for fleeting victims. Tapping into the consternation rising during a period of great scientific progress – and plenty of misfiring conjecture – Stevenson’s fascination with the recesses of the human brain make his story timeless and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is never too far from a fresh take such as this one.Dr Jekyll and Edward Hyde are played by a hobbling, seething and brooding Jack Bannell, who resembles Auden Turner’s tortured Poldark as he runs his hands through his long locks in constant frustration. Maintaining Jekyll’s unsteady infirmity as well as he depicts the dextrous shifts between Jekyll and Hyde, Bannell provides a convincing rendition of a towering figure of classic literature. However, there are some aspects of the characterisation which do at times distract from the great accomplishment of such a complex and demanding role. Namely, Hyde’s snarls are more slurping than sinister, leading to chuckles from the school parties in attendance – yes, Hyde is an animalistic creature, but the slurping sounds do little to create the necessary sense of threat achieved well by Bannell’s dead eyes and unnerving grin. While most scenes of Jekyll/ Hyde’s torment are very well played, they are also over-played at times – Bannell is clearly capable of portraying both characters with gravity, so I’m not sure what the root cause might be for those brief departures from the general quality of the performance.Paige Round offers a walking, talking curriculum vitae here; quick changing endlessly across the production of offer her influential and substantial role as Eleanor Lanyon as well as maid, prostitute and inevitable victim – among others. Accents are donned to distinguish the characters along with the costume changes and Round really shines across the whole production as each of these engaging incarnations of females. To say that Eleanor is a fabrication of Lane’s and completely absent from Stevenson’s tale, Round certainly makes her mark as a pivotal character in the story of this twisted doctor and his uncontrollable dæmon. As Hastings Lanyon, a man torn between ethical science and an interest in progress as well as a husband torn between an unsatisfied, unconventional wife and a long time colleague, Ashley Sean-Cook is every bit the conflicted gentleman of the era. Upright and entirely self-assured in his sense of morality, Sean-Cook’s performance allows Bannell and Round to rebel against this solid depiction of nineteenth century restraint and conformity. Zach Lee’s quietly authoritative Gabriel Utterson provides the most enervating narration of the cast; urgent and compelling, he is responsible for much of the thrill and expectation conjured as the narrative progresses. As Utterson, he takes shape as a seasoned inspector; perplexed but determined, his fearless pursuit of answers promise an audience great drama.Victoria Spearing’s designs offer no set changes but rather a sturdy wall of solid furniture from the period; heavy doors and towering cabinets in dark wood fill Jekyll’s work space and every other setting with the same overcast and gothic aesthetic. Naomi Gibbs’ costume designs for Eleanor rival some of those I’ve seen in top West End Productions. Gorgeously constructed and layered with history and significance, they not only assist Round as she morphs into various characters, but they make Round the constant focus as she boldly departs from the uniformly dark and identical clothes of the men. I’d go so far as to say that Gibbs’ designs are a beautiful highlight of the whole production when it comes to Round’s costumes, and her designs for the men are perfect snapshots of the era – in fact, it is primarily Gibbs’ work which gives the production its visual overarching sense of substance and prestige.Nick Lane’s adaptation is pacy, with the characters narrating the gradual passing of time directly to the audience; noting the year of each key event before swiftly moving into the next scene, they assist the audience in navigating what is a famously sprawling narrative. Also directing, Lane’s vision for the piece seems to be suitably gloomy and dark but while some stylistic features such as the eerie opening sequence involving masks and cannoned whispering, other attempts to continue the mask motif fall flat simply because they lack consistency – absent for most of the play, the sudden re-appearance later on has no great impact despite being a promising idea at the start. That said, the copious doses of smoke and dank lighting from Claire Childs do justice to the darkness pervading Stevenson’s narrative. The slow motion violence is a great stylistic feature to excel in the production, highlighting the hideous aggression of Hyde brilliantly by slowing down the action, making every gruesome blow count as Jack Bannell and Zach Lee’s physicality make the scene’s brutality palpable.
With an accomplished cast delivering an interesting new take on an established classic, this production of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a solid reminder of the reasons behind Blackeyed Theatre’s impressive longevity.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde continues to tour and you can get your tickets here.
Photography: Alex Harvey-Brown