Jekyll & Hyde Corpus Delicti
Adam Dechanel, based on the original book by Robert Louis Stevenson
Simon James Collier, Omar F. Okai and Adam Dechanel
Lion & Unicorn Theatre
This is a very free adaptation of Stevenson’s well-known novel, reconfigured for dramatic purpose and to match fringe theatre resources, which exploits the close-up experience of a small studio staging to dramatic effect.
It is played absolutely sincerely, which avoids the tendency to make an audience giggle that horror so frequently results in. Despite the familiarity of the story, it still has a cliffhanger quality as it unfolds and under Simon James Collier’s direction delivers several frissons of evil to make back hairs bristle.
The transformation from Dr Jekyll into Mr Hyde is achieved simply and very effectively. Taking a cue from Jekyll’s own description of the division of the human personality, the play is mounted in the three-quarter round with the simplest of staging.
Walls and floor of this black-box theatre are covered with texts and calculations: thoughts from philosophers and the algebraic equations, chemical formulae, occult symbols and experimental hypotheses that record Dr Jekyll’s researches. On a raised platform bordered by books are a chaise longue, a hat stand and, hanging, a gold-framed mirror.
It is there that, when the audience enters, the ominous red-eyed figure of Edward Hyde already waits for them, framed by the mirror, silent but menacing. From Wyatt Wendels’s first guttural growl as Hyde, in objection as Henry Jekyll argues with a fellow researcher who wants to share his researches and the credit for them, his embodiment of evil is manifest. It is a glowering performance.
Rory Fairbairn’s Dr Jekyll shares his ideas with the audience. He is a likeable young man with a touch of academic pedantry as he explains his research. As he is driven to carry it further and gets caught up in his struggle with the Hyde side of his fiancée Penelope finds him changed, and Hyde revolting.
Dechanel has created women characters to recount much of the story with Elizabeth Bryant as a charming but confused Penelope, Leonora Hair as Jekyll’s housekeeper, Connie Jackson as maid Mary and Rebecca Bell as showgirl Sarafina whose lively singing and feather dance provide a lively distraction to contrast with the main mood of menace.
Although those roles are clear, there is some confusion over other roles they double and their recounting of sections from Jekyll’s own letter of explanation is not logically integrated. Some of those readings seem too long, the cast have not yet found how to deliver them freshly but that may come with more performances, though they are not helped by unnecessary background music.
Tom Hartill gives Jekyll’s concerned lawyer friend Gabriel John Utterson concern and intelligence but Darragh Kelliher plays Irish accented detective Inspector Willard but there is more confusion when these bearded, very recognisable actors also double Jekyll’s jealous colleague and Penelope’s oddly accented uncle—who is one of Hyde’s victims.
This production doesn’t shirk the violence the stems from Hyde but it is cleverly handled by Omar F Okai and, though stylised, still sends shivers down the spine. It really does deliver that presence of evil that is the tales's essence.
Jekyll & Hyde is the third of a trio of “Gothic” productions that Simon James Collier has mounted at the Lion & Unicorn and not the first time he has been involved with the subject. Back in 2011, he and Omar F Okai directed 1888, a musical that featured actor-impresario Henry Mansfield who famously played both Jekyll and Hyde in his own stage adaptation of the story, along with Jack the Ripper and social reformer Josephine Butler.
He is bringing back his production of Dracula after a Shakespeare offering for Christmas but what could he be cooking up next? Will it be something else scary?
Reviewer: Howard Loxton