Story: Robert Louis Stevenson
Adapter and Performer: Mark Stratford
Since Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella was published in 1886 there have been hundreds of different plays and many films that have captured the writer’s mysterious tale about the conflict of good and evil that lies within all of us. Here Mark Stratford has created and performs an adaptation that is faithful to the book (even down to structure of the play following the chapter progression), bringing a certain elegance of the Victoiran age to the stage, to an appreciative gathering.
The story begins with a police Inspector, called Newcomen, addressing a select audience, about the awful and strange events that have recently unfolded in the house of Dr Jekyll. He then turns to Gabriel Utteson, Jekyll’s most trusted friend and personal lawyer, to recount the case for those in attendance.
Utterson tells the tale of how his friend has created a will to benefit a mysterious protege called Edward Hyde. The terms of the will are peculiar. If Dr Jekyll disappears, even for as little as three months, his estate is to pass to Mr Hyde in its entirety. Suspecting the doctor is being blackmailed for some discretion in his past, Utterson decides to investigate Mr Hyde and get to the bottom of the odd clause. What he is to find out is more disturbing than he could ever imagine.
Stratford is a fine actor and embodies the half a dozen or so characters he plays very well, with good separation of physicality and varying vocalisation for each different person in the story. He is enjoyable to watch at work; his most striking role being that of the animalistic Edward Hyde. It is a performance that brings to mind Willem Defoe’s portrayal of the Green Goblin in the Spiderman films; both mesmerising and somewhat unhinged.
As the afternoon wears on, we find out that Mr Hyde is someone that easily becomes out of control and even kills someone, but then he disappears. At the same time, Dr Jekyll becomes more erratic and doesn’t even let his best friends into his house to say hello.
With Dr Jekyll’s head servant becoming concerned for the welfare of his master. He and the steadfast lawyer decide to break into Dr Jekyll’s lab, only to discover Mr Hyde dead in the room. Mr Utterson discovers a letter from his friend explaining the whole situation and the narration of the play is taken over by Dr Jekyll to spell out the tragedy that has befallen him, with the horrible truth unfolding before our eyes.
Although the rigid path of the play mirroring the original structure of the book sometimes slows the piece down and the repetition of the plot points can be a little wearing to the modern viewer, Strafford’s stellar performance carries the play to its conclusion.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has a very accomplished performance at its heart. It is well acted and for the large part, captivating to watch.
Reviewed on 5th June