Writer & Director: Nick Lane
Based on the novella by: Robert Louis Stevenson
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Despite the titular character(s) being thoroughly ingrained in popular culture, and the phrase “Jekyll & Hyde” entering common parlance as a way of describing someone displaying erratic behaviour, it’s surprising how few people are familiar with the actual story of Robert Louis Stevenson’s most famous work (that doesn’t involve pirates). Even small children will be familiar with the concept of someone drinking a potion and turning into a monster (it having been a mainstay of cartoon plots for years) and the character of Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde often crops up in film and television – most recently played by Russell Crow in The Mummy (2017).
With such baggage, it is rather brave of Blackeyed Theatre to return to the source material and produce a faithful adaption of Stevenson’s novel complete with full period dress and setting. Fortunately, this production is far from monstrous and is, in fact, a highly impressive piece that thanks to excellent production values, superb direction and a very talented cast, presents itself as lavish and extremely polished.
Blackeyed Theatre specialises in touring the smaller venues across the country although if this production is indicative of their regular output, their shows deserve to reach a bigger audience. The fixed set is beautifully constructed out of wooden furniture and doors and dressed with great detail to evoke the study/laboratory. This immediately sets the scene which is then matched by Claire Childs’ exquisitely atmospheric lighting and some very well placed sound effects and music. The props and costumes are all beautifully authentic which shows an excellent eye for detail that is lacking in too many modern productions. Nick Lane’s direction is imaginative and always interesting. He makes great use of the set with some clever use of props to create the illusion of other locations such as a mortuary, and all of the transitions and costume changes are handled slickly. Most striking is a fully realised and shockingly brutal murder that occurs at the end of act one: this is brilliantly choreographed and performed and leaves a lasting impression.
The cast numbers only four, with each displaying true talent and versatility. Jack Bannell is Jekyll/Hyde and is rarely off the stage. He brilliantly contrasts his two characters in every aspect of his performance. No cheap monster makeup here: Bannell relies entirely on his acting ability to clearly show at all times which alter ego he is. Paige Round is also excellent: portraying all of the female roles from a cockney prostitute to a chatty housemaid, but mainly as Jekyll’s feistily intelligent love interest Eleanor. Zach Lee and Ashley Sean-Cook play the rest of the parts with both giving equally sincere and impressive life to a myriad of distinct personalities.
If this production can be criticised, it perhaps could be a little shorter. Excellent as it is, at two and a half hours (including interval) perhaps the need to be so faithful to Stevenson could have been curtailed a little with some judicious editing of a few superfluous scenes. However, this is nit-picking and Lane’s adaption is otherwise solid.
This production is one that many ‘bigger, more established’ companies would do well to look to emulate and Blackeyed Theatre is certainly one to watch out for.
Touring Nationwide | Image: Contributed