JOYCE MCMILLAN on JEKYLL AND HYDE at Perth Concert Hall for The Scotsman 21.2.15.
4 stars ****
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON’S great story of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde was first published in 1886; and although it is set in London, we’ve become used to reading it as an indictment both of Victorian sexual repression in general, and of the particular hypocrisy that Stevenson encountered in the divided Edinburgh of his youth.
There’s no comfortable historic distance between us and Stevenson’s story, though, in Jo Clifford’s dark and disturbing new stage version for the touring company Sell A Door. Instead, Clifford sets the story in a dystopian near future where the pressures of mounting climate change have led to a fierce darkening of the political scene, with homosexuality once again illegal, state surveilllance everywhere, and feminist thought classed as a form of domestic terrorism.
It’s against this background that celebrity doctor Henry Jekyill pursues his high-profile career, researching a drug to end cancer for ever. There is a more sinister side, though, to his ambition and lust for glory; and when he discovers the injectable drug that separates his “good” and “bad” selves, he rapidly becomes addicted to the thrill of being both the savagely violent and amoral Hyde, and – for a time – a calmer and less conflicted Jekyll.
All of this is superbly captured in Clifford’s adaptation for three actors, directed with impressive intensity and flair by David Hutchinson, and set by designer Richard Evans on a rotating steampunk-style platform that conjures up all the story’s interior spaces, while allowing the beast-like Hyde to prowl the darkness beyond it. Nathan Ives-Moiba is astonishing as Jekyll and Hyde, shifting his body-shape, stance and voice in a second as he morphs from one character to the other. Around him revolve his friend and one-time lover Utterson, poignantly played by Lyle Bark, and the fabulous Rowena Lennon as all the nameless women in the story, the servants, mistresses and murdered prostitutes, with their halting and often silenced testimonies of “historic sexual abuse”.
This is not a Jekyll & Hyde for the faint-hearted: Clifford’s powerful script reverberates with ominous forward echoes of our own times, there is a torture scene that is painful to watch, and the play never questions Jekyll’s assumption that every man wants to do evil, if only he can get away with it. Yet this bold and brilliantly-written reimagining of a familiar story makes for two hours of compelling theatre; which Edinburgh may have a chance to see for itself, when Sell A Door take over the St. Stephen’s venue in the New Town, during this year’s Fringe.
Jekyll & Hyde at the Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock, tonight, and on tour across the UK. Seen at Perth Concert Hall, 18 February.