Writer: Robert Louis Stevenson
Adapter and Director: Mark Stratford
Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 Gothic novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is one of those works whose central characters have entered the general lexicon. Everybody has heard of a Jekyll-and-Hyde combination, even if one has never read the original work.
Actor Mark Stratford has adapted the novella into a one-man stage work that, like Stevenson’s original, generally relates the story from the perspective of Dr Jekyll’s lawyer, Gabriel Utterson. In Stratford’s retelling, Utterson is recounting his experiences for an audience at Scotland Yard. Starting with Utterson’s curiosity over Jekyll’s will, in which the mysterious Edward Hyde is the sole beneficiary, Utterson’s curiosity is piqued when his cousin mentions witnessing an accident in which Hyde ran over a young girl, before escaping custody by running into Jekyll’s house.
Utterson’s curiosity leads him to investigate further, encountering other characters from Stevenson’s story. All are sharply delineated – the Scots burr of Jekyll’s friend Lanyon, the concave-spine pomposity of Detective Inspector Newcomen – save for Utterson and Jekyll, who, in comparison to other characters, are generic Victorian gentlemen.
But the true difference one expects, of course, is between Jekyll and his alter ego, the villainous Hyde. Here, Stratford puts in some exceptional work: the first reveal of the transformation is highly charged. That same transition is presented many more times, each with a flourish that hints that the same shock should be felt each time despite the diminishing returns of reality.
Stratford’s work hews closely to Stevenson’s original plotting, which, while commendable, also affords this play its greatest flaw. As in the novella, Hyde dies halfway through, and the remaining story explores events in greater depth to find the truth behind what happened. As a result, there is a level of repetition that, while bearable in prose, diminishes the power of Stratford’s stage adaptation.
What is also noticeable from this adaptation is how few women feature in Stevenson’s story. A maid witnesses one particular murder by Hyde from a nearby upstairs window, but other than that, the London that Jekyll and his inner beast inhabit is almost exclusively male.
Nevertheless, this is an accomplished exploration of one of the best works in the Gothic tradition. And if it encourages more people to explore the novella and find the truth behind the story of Jekyll and Hyde, all the better for that.
Continues until 28 January 2023