Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, which is at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 5th May.
A theatre can certainly reduce its electricity bills, staging this production of Jekyll and Hyde.
At the Wolverhampton Grand this week, Lighting Designer Mark Jonathan is specialising in sharp pencil spots, pale washes and guttering candles to produce the ghostly effects he wants. If the theatre was still connected to its gas supply, he’d probably employ that too. The only memorable colour, in a relentlessly black and sinister setting, is the pillar box red door to Jekyll’s study that glows mysteriously in the dark.
The staging is firmly rooted in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Victorian origins. The costumes are all capes and crinolines, the singing is high and haunting and the wholly traditional illusions depend upon good old-fashioned stagecraft and experienced acting.
David Edgar’s socially aware and highly intelligent script deals head-on with the concerns of their time…and, by inference, ours. He doesn’t hesitate to discuss scientific uncertainty about the workings of the mind or how squalid environmental conditions damage the collective psyche…opening the sewers of the soul.
His text is also surprisingly funny as it drops countless, almost cack-handed, clues about the revelations to follow. “There are demons in the darkness”, could have come straight out of an early episode of Doctor Who. “There is always something chilling about a mirror,” is either Dracula or Snow White. And Doctor Jekyll’s excuse for his absence with the phrase “I’ve been hiding” had the stalls in silent stitches.
He also cleverly gives Jekyll a sister and her young family to love him … so we can clearly measure his decline into schizophrenia.
In his original version, written for the RSC in 1991, Edgar wrote Jekyll and Hyde for two actors. Now he is asking Phil Daniels to switch back and forth between the doctor and his demon. And what a fabulous duel role to be given!
Daniels initially delineates the two characters with superb subtly. His hands audibly creak as they metamorphose from those of a caring medic to the tools of a monstrous killer. His voice gently slides from Edinburgh Morningside to Glasgow Gorbals. His mannerisms coarsen and his stance becomes increasingly drunken as evil wins its battle for his soul.
There’s a marvellously inventive moment when his little niece paints a happy and wicked face on either side of a spinning top he’s given her …and then spins it for her uncle, so he can see the two faces become one. There is a chilling realisation on Jekyll’s own face as he watches the child’s toy replicate his own fate.
There is not a shred of Hammer Horror about this production; it’s far too sophisticated for that. No gimmicks, no gore. Instead it’s an excellent, highly concentrated story … told with remarkable authenticity and a considerable degree of caring towards all the characters concerned.
And it’s still pertinent. As the adaptor points out, there are plenty of people walking around now with “deep divisions between their public faces and private lives. The world of the 1880s remains chillingly familiar today”.
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Photo : Mark Douet