Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Writer: David Edgar

From the novel by: Robert Louis Stevenson

Director: Kate Saxon

Reviewer: Gareth Davies

There is much that sends shivers of terror down the spine from this touring production of David Edgar’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella. The original story almost single-handedly created the genre of psychological horror, but perhaps the scariest thing here is the amount of Arts Council England funding that has been squandered on such an all-round terrible presentation.

The programme note from Edgar makes reference to sharpening his script (first penned in the late 1980s) and underlining its relevance to contemporary news stories around abuses of power and “sexual misdemeanours”. That this text is considered ‘sharp’ and ‘relevant’ is truly bizarre, given the long scenes of verbose, rhythmless dialogue that feel as though they could have been ripped from the worst kind of Victorian melodrama.

There is no tonal consistency across this two hours of turgid text. When Jekyll, asked where he has been, replies that he’s “been hiding”, is the horror being played for laughs, or is the humour entirely accidental? And why would either of those options be worth the not-inconsiderable price of an admission ticket?

The only thing entirely absent throughout is any genuine sense of terror. More often the production feels like an extended Acorn Antiques-style riff on Gothic horror and theatrical cliches, with rickety sets, shadows obscuring faces, adults playing children, overlong scene changes, portentous choral phrases sung by a sinister soloist, a classic ‘sitting on the suitcases’ train scene, the sound of echoing footsteps – one has to assume the comedy accents in particular were introduced as a cruel joke, though whether on the cast or the audience remains unclear.

Thankfully we’re spared thunderclaps and flashes of lightning, even during the entirely underwhelming moments when Jekyll (Phil Daniels) becomes Hyde (Phil Daniels), and vice versa. That those two key figures are visually indistinguishable from each other in any way seems like the worst kind of missed opportunity – and that the evil Hyde has a more Glaswegian version of an otherwise unwarranted (and consistently fluid) Scottish accent is almost downright insulting.

Director Kate Saxon describes, in her programme note, the challenge of finding ways to seamlessly segue between locations and scenes in the story, without halting the “taut drama”. Forgetting about that latter objective seems her only solution, ridding the drama of both depth and interest. Never before has the banality of evil been just outright boring.

Simon Higlett’s set is a yawnsome collection of black features, contrasted with predominantly dark costumes, forcing the audience to squint in order to distinguish actors from scenery. That task is made more difficult by the cast struggling with Edgar’s chaotic script and Saxon’s clunky direction, rendering their performances both more wooden and more flimsy than the set which surrounds them. The unironic eyepatch worn by one character surely only exists to punish the performer wearing it for some unspecified crime against humanity in a previous life.

Mark Jonathan’s lighting design is more shadow than light, which would have been a clever thematic decision had it been the other way around, or implemented in a way that didn’t reek of stage school theatrics.

An attempt by Edgar to bring emotional backbone to the story, requiring outright exposition right up to the closing moments of the play, takes it too far from Stevenson’s original tale. And what has been lost – or forgotten – is the true horror that Jekyll/Hyde is all of us; we are all just one gulp of a magic potion from unleashing our own inner demons.

After all, if Stevenson had sat down to write a story of a family man struggling with childhood trauma and the social pressures of maintaining a public image when his maid gets pregnant, it’s unlikely anyone would be wanting to adapt it for the stage nearly 150 years later.

Runs until 14 April 2018 | Image: Mark Douet

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Truly terror-ble

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The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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  1. My wife and I were there for half of the performance, as we left at the interval. As regular theatre goers I can say that this was one of THE worst plays I have partly seen. It is set in Victoria times and yet we have a black actor playing a child of the family and we are just to ignore this, that and the fact he was about 25 if he was a day. The lead breaking into his Billy Connolly voice was also something to miss. They should have kept this as a two actor piece, instead of this swirling of a cape MOO HA HA, pantomime villian. The girl singing at the lab door about matches was bizarre. The review by Mr Douet is accurate. You should only buy tickets for this play for those people you do not like. To buy them for yourself will ensure a waste of money and a thoroughly miserable evening of ?. Well entertainment is not the word for it.

  2. I’m not a regular theatre goer, I went to see this because I was intrigued to see Phil Daniels tackle this Robert Louis Stevenson classic. I did no research on reviews or details of the play, I just went to see what would happen.

    From the outset, I was pleased to hear Phil was voicing Jekyll in a subtle and educated Scottish voice, a million miles away from his accent in Scum. I was amused by Phil channelling Billy Connolly for Hyde, but it might have been more menacing if he had channelled the voice and vocabulary of an Edinburgh sociopath (e.g. Begbie from the books, not the filum)

    It emerges that the accents are the major indicator for differentiating between the J/H characters, as crouching down a bit is a tough sell to convince the audience that people think you are a completely different person. But I went with that.

    I enjoyed the 3D element of theatre, for which the lighting/set folks get my thanks, and the cast all did what they were given to do in exemplary fashion. But I was not entirely satisfied by the overall production.

    I’ve since confirmed that my problem is not with the cast or production, but with David Edgar’s stageplay.

    I thank the Kings, cast and crew for an enjoyable evening.

  3. Totally disagree with the review and comment above. Sure the casting of the adult black actor as a child was weird and the Scottish accent dodgy at times (Glasgow drunk-esque) but it was well acted and entertaining nonetheless and in now way deserving of this brutal review. We nearly didn’t go when we read this but were glad we did.

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