Writer: Robert Louis Stevenson
Adaptor: David Edgar
Director: Kate Saxon
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
What if man were made of two halves? A base half and a higher half? And what if one half spoke in a posh Edinburgh brogue and the other in a thick Glaswegian accent? These are the questions asked in the Rose Theatre’s confusing new production of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Gothic horror, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Like most other theatrical or cinematic adaptations of the novella, this version, adapted by David Edgar
in the 1990s, chooses to ignore the traces of homoeroticism that haunt the original. So wary of examining a homosocial environment of lawyers, doctors and politicians, adapters feel obliged to introduce female characters to dispel any suggestions of same-sex desire that could exist between this group of men. The most famous movie version of the story with Spencer Tracy in the lead introduced several women as love interests, while here Edgar gives Jekyll a sister and a maidservant. By ‘de-queering’ Stevenson’s fin-de-siècle London, adapters only make the original text queerer.
Written in 1886, a year after the introduction of the Labouchere Amendment, which made it easier for police to arrest men engaged in homosexual activity, Stevenson’s novella would have been understood in a different way. The first readers would not have known that Jekyll and Hyde were the same person but would have surmised that Jekyll and Hyde were lovers or ex-lovers and that Hyde was blackmailing Jekyll. This original interpretation is now lost as everyone now knows that the two men are, in fact, one.
With the sex gone, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde becomes a story of good versus evil, or a Freudian battle of animal instincts against the superego. It’s hard to do anything new with the tale and so at The Rose of course, we have dry ice on stage as the London fog, and the noise of footsteps and horses’ hooves on cobbled streets. What we don’t have, rather surprisingly, are foaming test tubes and nor do we have the dramatic transformation of Jekyll into Hyde.
The differences between the two men are very small. There’s no need for prosthetics here as Jekyll is played as a mild-mannered doctor from Edinburgh, kind to children, while Hyde is a Glasgow drunk with a limp, lashing out at everyone. As the lead, Phil Daniels, of Quadrophenia fame, tries to individualise the two men, but it’s hard to believe that none of the other characters suspect that Jekyll and Hyde are the same man. There’s no menace in Daniels’ Hyde, and in the second half he begins to play him for laughs. Perhaps it is the only thing to do when your character is given a nursery rhyme to sing with the words ‘Don’t Tickle Teddy in the Forest.’
The cast is competent, and we quickly warm to Annie, the maid, played by Grace Hogg-Robinson, and Poole, the manservant, played by Sam Cox. The set with its many doors and walkways designed by Simon Higlett fills the stage impressively, and Mark Jonathan’s lights add some much-needed spookiness to the proceedings. Despite its creakiness, the first act flies by.
But like Jekyll, the play is made of two halves and this second half, like Hyde, limps along. It should be action-packed, but it’s hampered by a great deal of exposition as we learn the backstories of most of the main characters. Even in the final climatic scene, there is exposition. But by this time, Edgar has finished with Stevenson, and, instead, has seemingly moved on to the other great fin-de-siècle novel about doubling, The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Surely one double act is enough?
Runs until 17 February 2018 | Image: Mark Douet