The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
It is testament to the enduring power of Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic tale that most people understand exactly what is meant by a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ character, even if they have never heard of or read the book. In this production, adapted by Nick Lane and performed at Sutton Coldfield’s Highbury Theatre Centre, the classic 1886 story is as fresh and unsettling as it must have been when it was first published (even if we all know that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person before the story starts).
Directed by and starring Paul Steventon-Marks, this production of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde brilliantly brings to life a murky Victorian underworld of masks, mayhem and murder on the Highbury Theatre Centre stage. It looks and sounds fantastic and is not for the faint-hearted. As the mystery unfolds, prepare for more than a few gory surprises.
Stevenson’s novella is dominated by male characters. In Nick Lane’s adaptation, the creation of a new female character works nicely to make the play more rounded and allows for the exploration of some of the darker aspects of human sexuality. Casting separate actors to play Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde also serves to heighten the theme of duality: seeing two versions of the same man locked in a battle between opposing personalities on stage makes for compelling theatre.
Richard Constable is perfectly cast as Doctor Jekyll, the zealous scientist driven to discover fundamental truths about human nature. There’s integrity and earnestness in his experiments to separate the two conflicting aspects of our natures: good and evil. This heightens the tension when his alter ego, the depraved Mr Hyde, begins to assert more power over him. Paul Steventon-Marks is a genuinely menacing and unnerving Hyde, pacing around the stage like a wild animal. The masks and costumes (also Steventon-Marks) add a terrifying gothic edge to the aesthetic and link nicely to the underlying themes of identity and deception, of ourselves and each other.
Many stage adaptations of the novel omit Stevenson’s narrator Utterson, Doctor Jekyll’s lawyer who investigates the increasingly mysterious and violent events surrounding his client. The role works well in this adaptation and Phil Astle cuts a respectable, rational figure as Utterson. Calm curiosity is soon replaced by a sense of impending doom as the mystery is uncovered.
Rationalism and scientific certainty is also embodied in the character of Doctor Lanyon, friend and foil to Doctor Jekyll. Rob Fusco perfectly balances geniality with stubbornness in his performance: he cares about his old friend but cannot tolerate the unscientific, mystical balderdash in which Jekyll is increasingly obsessed. Mariel Marcano-Olivier’s performance as Lanyon’s wife Eleanor (a character not in Stevenson’s original) is full of sensuality and anguish. Her visible struggle to reconcile simultaneous feelings of attraction and repulsion from Hyde is gripping and her part in the play’s tragic conclusion is genuinely chilling.
There’s excellent support from Mathilde Jensen-Toft, Carol Deakin and Jake Collyer in a variety of roles. Lighting (Tom Birkbeck) and sound (Richard Irons and John Maddison) complement Malcolm Robertshaw’s visually arresting set: a gateway to hell with a giant devil’s mouth gaping wide at the back of the stage.
Like all great art, Jekyll and Hyde asks far more questions than it answers. The story continues to force readers and audiences to reflect on a wide range of uncomfortable ideas and Stevenson does not provide any easy answers. What makes us behave as we do? Do we all have the capacity for evil? Why are we often attracted to darker aspects of the human psyche? Is there a monster lurking somewhere in each of us?
A professional production which is both thought-provoking and hugely entertaining. Book a ticket.
The Highbury Players production of ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is playing at the Highbury Theatre Centre in Sutton Coldfield until 10th December 2022.