Writer: Caroline Devlin
Director: Marieke Audsley
This Victorian horror story of a monstrous embodiment of evil distilled from a virtuous citizen’s soul is a potent myth. Under the high domed ceiling of the nave in St Nicolas’ Church we’re all agog to witness the transformation of a good man into a monster.
In the sumptuous east end of St Nicolas’ Church, where Robert Louis Stevenson ’s Gothic nightmare is to be enacted, an enormous crucifix hangs suspended in space over the altar. Church candles are lit one by one as the audience assembles and the nave lights gradually dim to leave the arches of the stage lit, luminescent and ethereal.
The tale of a virtuous man destroyed by his evil alter ego is here adapted for one actor. Samuel Collings plays not only Jekyll and Hyde, but also the narrator (Utterson), the peripheral characters, Hyde’s victims, and even the Doctor’s manservant, with extraordinary virtuosity and flair. His range is amazing. In one short sequence, he has to knock at an invisible door as the gentle concerned Utterson, open the door to Utterson as Jekyll’s ancient manservant, and then conduct a brisk conversation between the two characters, adjusting his voice, posture and body shape at speed, according to who’s speaking each line.
His characterisation of a female witness to one of Hyde’s atrocities is also very funny. Impressively, he even manages to make Mr Hyde’s body appear from the back to be smaller and more simian than Dr Jekyll’s, when the script requires. Without the special effects and false hair that films of the tale depend upon, changing the appearance of Hyde‘s face is a challenge to which Collings rises ferociously.
Alongside Matt Eaton’s sound design, the lighting by Mark Dymock plays a vital part in creating the shocks and horrors that result from Dr Jekyll’s experiments in ‘transcendental medicine’. Hyde, manifesting first as a disembodied voice, is extremely menacing and powerful while invisible to the audience. The transformation sequence is a dramatic climax, as supernatural light flares and thunderous noise accompanies Jekyll’s agonised writhing.
Caroline Devlin’s adaptation is tailored for performance in the church and the director utilises the ecclesiastical space and its furniture to telling effect — the huge crucifix hanging centre stage is a permanent feature of the building. It’s a key to one of Devlin’s interpretations of the issues at the heart of Stevenson’s story. The pulpit becomes by turns a witness box and a dais from which Jekyll expounds his learned moral and scientific ideas; the altar is disguised and becomes… but no spoilers here!
This engrossing story of dangerous supernatural forces is spiced with Stevenson’s ethical and moral questions about the duality of good and evil and our motivation to behave according to social norms. But above all this is an entertaining evening of traditional Gothic horror, exciting effects and brilliant acting by Samuel Collings, that the whole family will enjoy.
Runs until 5 November 2022