Edinburgh Fringe 2014
"Eminent scientist Dr Jekyll believes he has created a new cure for depression. In a bid for his colleagues’ approval, he agrees to self-test the drug, but he soon comes face-to-face with his disturbed alter-ego, Hyde. Pulled into the violent underbelly of London, Jekyll struggles to win a war with his own psyche. Join Headlock Theatre for a physical re-telling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic tale at the Edinburgh Fringe 2014."
Here’s HEadlock’s promise on their web site: "At the heart of whatever we create, you will always find physical theatre. Whether we adapt a classic novel into a play with a modern setting or simply take a piece of contemporary writing, we always push and stretch our physical capabilities, creativity and imagination. We shape our productions to target and highlight current societal issues via this intriguing and visually-exciting theatrical genre."
Well, they have kept their promise in Jekyll and Hyde. A young cast have created and deliver this adaptation of the classic tale by Stevenson, set here in the milieu of contemporary pharmaceuticals.
From the outset of this very physical production, science is portrayed effectively and directly in a mechanical and repetitive way. This is the science of repeatable controlled trials and yet our impatient scientist cannot wait for statistical significance and opts instead to test the potential new, anxiety-busting wonder-drug C9 on himself.
By locating the story within the modern pharmaceutical industry, I did wonder how plausible it really is that a scientist would really self-test an untested medicine and just be observed by one peer and his partner at home. But if you suspend your disbelief you are in for an engaging story, well told through theatre.
Delivery was a bit hesitant in places and there’s an unevenness in vocal skills across the cast. I wanted to see more intensity in facial expression and vocal range in some of the cast members – more nuance and more fully immersed acting. This was certainly achieved by the central characters.
When the transformation comes, it is very well realised, and there’s excellent use of manic monologue as Jekyll essentially is torn in two. There are some nice moments of comedy as Henry tries to hold onto normality and continue with his experiment.
One technical criticism. At professional level all of a cast need to project into the whole space, nor to be so naturalistic in the way they speak that clarity is lost; as a result not all of the words spoken made it to me, in the middle back of the venue. Some performers were talking in modern idiom, hardly opening their mouths as they spoke. Others were using the theatre skills needed to communicate to the entire audience. This needs a bit more refinement and development.
The portrayal of Hyde is powerful and effective. It is done very simply and this simplicity creates more chilling impact. Our Hyde is scary. Rave music captures the turmoil, the unhinging from the more natural calm of Jekyll. Hyde is born from a mechanistic science into the techno-repetition of the rave – an interesting and clever overlap – rave and raving. And in that raving, murder is but a step away. Hyde is portrayed as impish, a clever demon. This Hyde is not pure fury, but instead, a clever psychopath, needy and needing to be in control to dominate Jekyll. Our Hyde is a Mephistopheles with a psychotic topping.
Some of the physicality lends power to the ppiece – the transformation, the violence, the struggle; some feels a bit unaccessible and superfluous, especially when there is ensemble movement on the fringes of the story. Yet I applaud the creativity and the spirit of experimentation. This is a group with plenty of ideas and prepared to take risks.
So, the physical theatre work which, in parts, is inventive and very well executed. There are moments of pitch perfect timing; chairs are slammed down in tightly timed unison. Jekyll and Hyde interact physically in ways that tap into dance movement, and the effect can be spine-tinging.
Companies such as Theatre Movement Bazaar lead the way on ensemble, small-group movement and, in Jekyll and Hyde we have movement convergence and divergence that really taps into the tension between good and evil, between anger and calm. This is particularly strong towards the end but the physical fighting feels a bit less together and scrappier.
These physical skills run a bit ahead of vocal skills Some of the cast lack clarity and, in places can’t be properly heard towards the back of the rake. Much of this is redeemed by the creative choreography which is used to create an atmosphere very authentic to Victorian street horror, transposed into the modern.
Less successful is the expectation that a modern scientist would self-test dangerous medication so overtly and brashly. Governance in science in the west is too strict and this self-testing is carried out in the light o institutional scrutiny. More plausible might have been covert or commercial corrupt testing. But this white-coat self-testing, in front of wife and peers didn’t feel credible to me, making it harder to suspend disbelief.
Overall there are many virtues here from this young cast production. I was impressed with the narrative and a largely successful modern rendition of this classic book. The story is skilfully crafted and placed on the bare stage with simple power. Jekyll and Hyde are both played convincingly; Jekyll is suitably intense, evasive and obsessed; Hyde’s wonderful impishness, disturbed and redeemed in this version from the over-muscular fury of Marvel comic and Hollywood versions. Hyde is not fury embodied alone -Hyde is psychopathic, a composite, not only of rage and violence, but aso unchained anguish and childishness. This is a mature and intelligent interpretation in this production.
Overall, this is a bold interpretation of a classic by an exciting company not afraid to blend drama, physicality, sound and horror. Develop some of the theatre craft a bit more and it will be something really special.