Writer: James Hyland
Director: Phil Lowe
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
So well known is Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella that its title characters have become part of our everyday English language. This gripping and sometimes terrifying one hour monologue is an adaptation of the novella by James Hyland, who also performs it. It approaches the story from a very different angle and connects it neatly to real life events.
Dr Jekyll – pronounced Gee-kyll (be careful not to upset this man) – is seen lecturing the sceptical members of the Royal Society of Surgeons about his pioneering work in exploring split personalities. His belief is that all humans consist of both good and evil, which can be separated by chemical inducements. He tells the Society the story of how, having taken such a chemical, he came across a man called Mr Hyde and followed him to Whitechapel, witnessing him commit the horriﬁc murder of a prostitute. Returning home, he looked into a mirror and the face that he saw was Hyde’s and not his own.
The theory that a ﬁctional character from a work published in 1886 could be connected to the series of real murders by Jack the Ripper that began in 1888 would not, of course, stand up to scrutiny. However, Hyland is conjecturing that a form of schizophrenia could have explained the Ripper’s actions and that his ability to submerge his evil side into his good one is a reason why he escaped detection. Hyland then takes this one step further by pointing the ﬁnger at the Duke of Clarence, a grandson of Queen Victoria and a real suspect in the Ripper case.
None of this is particularly faithful to Stevenson, but completely faithful is the sense of fear generated by Hyland’s commanding performance. Bearded and dressed in Victorian costume, he uses only a lectern as his prop and his connection with the audience is instant. In the opening stages, he appears to be a rational scientist, but occasionally and then increasingly, signs of rage and madness appear as Hyde begins to emerge. Then, in full ﬂow as Hyde, he resembles ﬁrstly Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo; he snaps like a mad dog, howls like a werewolf; and ﬁnally, as he devours a victim’s liver washed down with a glass of wine, he is Hannibal Lecter, thereby cleverly completing a bridge between generations of ﬁctional monsters.
When Jekyll/Hyde wields a dagger around the room as he concludes his lecture, every member of the audience quivers in terror. This play is not recommended for anyone who needs a good night’s sleep.