Writer: Vlad Butucea and Hope Dickson Leach
Director: Hope Dickson Leach
Cinematography: David Liddell
Adapted once more, Robert Louis Stephenson’s Gothic Novella – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde is a literary juggernaut, a cultural icon with an impact that drives itself into the English language’s understanding of duality, private life – and perhaps most significantly the dredged up remains of Scottish nationalism vs Unionist ideals.
The Ghosts of Leith Theatre, resurrected once more to draw the muck and mirth of the city into the realms of live performance from Scotland’s cream of the crop, with an understanding not only of Leith and Edinburgh’s history but with the city’s relationship with its people, both as a haven, and inferno.
Writer-Director Hope Dickson Leach’s interpretation, together with writer Vlad Butucea, combines the elements of live stage performance with the technicalities of filmmaking, creating a memorable experience in staging a live movie. And though weighing the production as a piece of theatre, the manifestations of cinephile magic are hard to ignore, and systematically entwined within David Liddell’s cinematography.
Split between pre-recorded sequences across Edinburgh, with live streaming around the historically magnificent Leith Theatre, the gaunt and stripped walls become the lodgings of gentlemen, the offices of tyrants and the slums of the Edinburgh vaults. As the audience arrives walking through the set dressings and scenics, there’s a rare charge through the wintry air, fitting for the piece.
Be it the classical interpretation of Richard Mansfield’s stage & film performance, a contemporary re-telling in the ilk of Hannah Lavery’s Pitlochry Festival Theatre smash hit from the perspective of the women of the tale – or even when wandering into the realms of graphic novels and video games, successful iterations of the story stem from a common source – the impact of Hyde, less so than the monstrous being themselves. Dickson Leach excels in understanding the origins of the novella and manipulating the foundations to re-locate the tale to the streets and names of Edinburgh – dissolving worries of gimmick within the opening moments, returning the novella to Stephenson’s Scottish heritage.
As such, Utterson’s place as the protagonist, as a narrative force usually cast to the side, is aided tremendously by the energised and impassioned performance of Lorn MacDonald, who lifts the role to original realms, or depths depending on your viewpoint. Merciless in his pursuit of affection, attention from Jekyll to a thirst of humanities folly; power and avarice take hold of Utterson as the story progresses, tying the story of Hyde into a journey of sorts, a parasitic creature who by the tales end may have found a new host within the frame of the once humanitarian lawyer.
Veteran giants David Hayman, Tam Dean Burn and Alison Peebles all find a resounding place, even as ensemble cast members, Hayman, and Peebles unnerving presence a particular noteworthy inclusion. But what is the minor narrative position, at least socially, Scott Miller imbues a heart to the story.
Cast in shadow, engrossing his metaphorical transformations from man to beast, Lidell’s cinematography and filter-use are distinctive in tribute to the cinematic giants Robert Wiene, Ingmar Bergman, and Paul Wegener. The communication of corruption or shifting ideals all stem from these visual moments – combined with Ania Przygoda’s audio design playing into the hands of Hudson Mohawke’s score.
The nuances, some limited from the production’s pacing, areas are utilised to effect in the more humane ‘urges’ Utterson expresses in his tenderness with Jekyll, hinted and downplayed, with the occasional note of the necessary concealment of the time. And while Henry Pettigrew’s Jekyll has limits at his disposal with screen-time, there’s less an air of gentleman doctor and more something relatable and connecting with his presence.
The same cannot be said, thankfully, for Hyde. Grotesque, though staving off obscenity or movie-monster magic. The transformations are limited, up-close and play into the framing, Liddell is unafraid to push intimate shots to push the audiences’ discomfort. The initial meeting of Hyde and Utterson is where the show comes together, both visually and in character. The venom in MacDonald’s tongue has a chance to escape, aimed at this calm and charismatic hulking brute, the envy of Utterson’s desires.
Streaming across cinemas this evening, with further recordings due for an outing within the Autumn with Sky Arts – The National Theatre Scotland’s latest venture into the past, into fiction and gothic novella dredges the insecurities of men and power back into the limelight.
Cast in a monochrome nightmare, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde will find certainty in the realms of cinema, but its fashioning of a path for continuations in inventive live theatre is perhaps an experiment which the good doctor can claim success with, as equally as his infamous transformative concoctions.
Runs in cinemas across the UK from 27 February 2022 | Image: Henry Home