Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Everyone is in thrall to the dangerous charisma of Ms Hyde – who can give you exactly what you desire .. if only you are honest with yourself ..
Quite the wisest decision for this production is to have a healthy disregard for the original Robert Louis Stevenson novel that has inspired it. Guessing that most of us will have at least a passing familiarity with the plot, this production takes only the basic concept, and puts new flesh on the bones. While the 1897 story is robust enough to take most interpretations (a study in misogyny has been suggested) it is most commonly read as reaction to the demon drink. Fast forward to 2015, and the masses have a new opiate: Self Help, and the snake oil peddlers that say they can solve all your problems if you are just honest with yourself, and say what needs to said. This, in no small part, is what this version is communicating, and without giving too much away, it’s instructive that the play takes its title from the more socially acceptable aspects of Stevenson’s creation, rather than the snarling monster.
There are some good performances here, particularly from Jekyll herself, an apparently fragile woman within untapped reserves of strength within who spends far too much time literally looking at life through a lens. There are a few too many moments in the hour that smack of what we might disparagingly refer to as ‘Fringe’, wearing its devised theatre origins too loudly: internal monologues screamed into the darkness. Fair warning: there’s a reasonable amount of strobe lighting used in the hour. This is a shame, because most of the script, and certainly all of the performances, are strong enough to survive without such directorial flourishes. Appropriately enough, this potion has more ingredients than it truly needs. Jekyll would benefit from having the cast of characters stripped down quite dramatically (some storylines are sadly, simply not as interesting as others), although it should be acknowledged that the storylines we do see are not exactly irrelevant: we see the devastating fallout of bad advice for good people, and the multiple characters do at least facilitate a neat sleight of hand that delays the meeting of two significant characters until a suitably late point in the narrative. And we should admit that one of the cleverest sequences is a example of exactly that type of ‘devised fringe theatre’: in which a group of uninterested customers are persuaded to buy a product they neither want or need. But by some degree, the strongest sequences are the more naturalistic two-handers, particularly when Hyde’s lifestyle guru bullies a series of victims into offering up truths, dishonestly, and a continued series of scenes where Amanda gets steadily less impatient with her mother: an increasingly fragile woman veering between calculated simpering sexiness to an unconfident irritant.
Hypnotist’s take on Jekyll has something in common with the novel Revival – in which a charismatic guru enables people to dramatically change their lives with quite ugly results. In that book, and indeed in The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the overreaching message was one of being careful what you wish for, while warning that there are no easy fix-it-fast solutions to the challenges we face. Hypnotist Theatre have swallowed that heady brew down, and spat out an intoxicating mixture. Just a little more confidence in their own ingredients will produce a truly excellent show.