Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has been turned by playwright Evan Placey into what he calls ‘a radical re-imagining’ rather than an adaptation. Written originally for the National Youth Theatre to reach a modern and younger audience this production has been ‘re-imagined’ by Director Sam Donovan and performed by adult students from the Summer Production term at Merseyside Academy of Drama (MAD). This time-hopping play, set in two different worlds is complicated and undoubtedly feminist with Placey giving glorious female roles. The ensemble cast rise to the task with determination and professionalism under Donovan’s detailed direction as he unravels their story while making great use of the unusual theatre space.
The story takes the two-sided theme to the extreme. It explores female suppression and subsequent anarchy in a patriarchal society. Set initially in Victorian London, Hattie the widow of Dr Jekyll goes to the theatre and appears tempted but declines an offer from a performer to go with them to a local pub where actors, prostitutes and homosexuals gather. She goes home where she is surprised by Detective Utterson who is investigating her husband’s death as a murder as Dr Jekyll had an unexplained head injury. Hattie seems indignant as it was she that had seen him last and had found his body in his laboratory in their house. Later that night Hatties goes for a walk and passes the pub. Shrouded in fog, a policeman appears and warns her that she might be taken for a prostitute in this area. Hattie goes home and conducts Dr Jekyll’s experiments herself. She takes his research on ‘Man is not truly one, but truly two’ to the Royal Society where Lanyon rejects her appeal to continue her husband’s work on the grounds that she is an uneducated woman who should go home and do needlework. Hattie is next seen injecting a sinister liquid into her arm aided by a young blogger Florence from present day. Hattie throws off her widow’s weeds and transforms into the dominatrix Lady Flossie Hyde who promptly takes herself off to the pub where Lanyon is being entertained by prostitutes and a male judge by a rent boy. Hattie then witnesses suffragette Josephine Butler campaigning for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act and is so infuriated that as Lady Flossie she kills the doctor who comes to the pub to inspect the prostitutes. She is arrested by two present day police officers. We discover in the second act that Hattie is a fictional character created by Florence for her blog. The blog has been used by a feminist group to incite violence and Florence is accused of directing them. The two worlds and characters merge as Hattie and Florence play out their roles in their own time periods until their final conclusion.
The simple set, designed by Ria Matthews, of giant mirrors (one frameless modern and one traditional gilt) placed at either end of the long and narrow performance space shimmered eerily with ample smoke. Dim lighting designed by Rachel Smart added to the mood and the audience seated either side on the same level of what felt like a dark street was engulfed in smoke and mirrors. A feisty, whip cracking lion-tamer in a scarlet basque startles the audience as she prowls the space commanding attention as a huge image of a lion is projected. This is Sally, played brilliantly by Blanca Perez Sepulveda as she thrills the now immersed audience that becomes her theatre audience. This is a light-hearted highlight in what is an otherwise dark tale. Gillian Lewis gives an outstanding performance as Hattie/Flossie Hyde in this wordy role. It would be easy to overlook the men in the midst of such talented women but they held their own with Nathan Topping conveying both authority and sensitivity as love-struck Detective Utterson. John Hilton gave a superb cameo as playful then threatening homosexual Judge Enfield and the Royal Society lead by Sean Geddes playing Lanyon maintained their full RP voices throughout. Accents were featured heavily in the ensemble cast of twenty-one and worked well in creating convincing characterisation in their suffragette and prostitute roles. Sheddie Broddle brought the two worlds together as young blogger Florence appearing in modern dress throughout. Her scenes in act two were powerful and she commanded the stage. The costume designs were given no credit but deserve mention for their attention to detail and bringing a fantastic Victorian music hall feel to this ambitious production. Credit must go to the MAD Production team for clever casting and maximising talent with varying experience to bring a thoroughly engaging theatrical experience.
Reviewer - Barbara Sherlock
on - 21/8/18