Jekyll + Hyde

Headlock Theatre

Spotlites @ Merchants' Hall

From 31 July 2014 to 16 August 2014

Rating: ***

Review by Liam Blain

At this year's Fringe, Sheffield-based company Headlock Theatre brings a modernised, physical theatre production of Stevenson's canonical novella to The Merchants' Hall.

Here, we follow the story of a present-day Henry Jekyll in his bid to synthesise a flawless antidepressant and anti-anxiety drug, known as 'C9'. We learn that Jekyll's family has a long history of mental health issues (apparent here in his sister Rosa), and the doctor's subsequent dedication to his research is what leads him to testing it on himself.

The primary, inevitable side-effect of C9 is the introduction of the terrible and sinister Hyde, with whom Jekyll must battle for his sanity, realised here in commendably choreographed physical scenes and wonderfully written dialogue.

The movement in the production is particularly and consistently impressive. The presentation of Jekyll's transformation from sensible man of science to uninhibited monster in the context of an underground London rave could have easily come across as contrived.

However, as the cast skank in perfect unison to hardcore drum 'n' bass, the audience is brought to draw comparisons with the similar transformations of the dedicated hedonists found at such events.

Their incessant grip on Rosa—breathing, pulsating like a living parasite—creates a striking physical image of the harsh realities of anxiety disorders.

While the cast mostly display a near-impeccable command of physicality in movement, the acting unfortunately often leaves much to be desired, with the exception of Nathan Spencer and Tom Boxall's performances as Jekyll and Hyde respectively. Use of multi-roling proves detrimental, with shallow performances at times creating confusion about which characters are present in certain scenes. 

The story itself is a decent modernisation in terms of its focus on such contemporary issues as mental health, though at times seemed clichéd—the overly-passive wife-in-distress character feels tired, and now dated. Furthermore, the plot is sometimes weakened by slightly unimaginative leaps from one point to another.

The most notable example of such a leap being the somewhat unbelievably quick progression from Jekyll's first dose to his first murder. Nonetheless, the language itself is often fantastic, and most notably so in the tantalising poetry of Hyde's dialogue. 

Boxall's chilling, rhythmic voice and twitching, jerking yet fluid mannerisms are harmoniously executed to create a truly hypnotic Hyde. He seems to slide seamlessly about the stage as some demonic serpent, floating upwards and onto the backs of his prey when required, and ending them with a sadistic satisfaction evident in his maddened eyes. Boxall is captivating in his physical portrayal of the id against Spencer's superego right through to the end of the play. 

Headlock Theatre has certainly proved its worth as a company talented in movement. However, Jekyll + Hyde ultimately suffers from bland acting and a less than watertight storyline that could not quite be carried by Boxall's performance alone.