The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Robert Louis Stephenson, adapted and directed by Jonny Kemp
King's Head Theatre
This very free adaptation of Stevenson's tale of the personification of a man's good and evil nature starts off in the Ten Bells Pub in Whitechapel which had associations with the victims of Jack the Ripper. Those murders began only two years after Stephenson's novella was published in 1886 and while its first stage adaptation was playing at the Lyceum Theatre. The actor-manager who put it on here tells the story as part of a framing device that helps sets up a style of rough theatre that forms an essential element of this production. It is delightfully tongue in cheek but works because the hard working cast of four play it very very seriously when they are in character and handle the Heath Robinson scene changes at breakneck speed.
Hyde is no fanged hairy monster but a handsome man about town, outwardly a charmer, especially compared with the boringly scholarly Dr Jekyll. William Hartley makes a splendid transformation, usually with the help of a puff of smoke, and gives them both clear characterisation. There are no women in Stevenson's story but here we have Jennifer Bryden playing Jekyll's charming much-loved sister and a variety of Limehouse ladies. Her Catriona, dying to burst out of the Jekyll Scottish manse, is clearly one of Bernard Shaw's new women but totally innocent in telling her carriage companion, 'I didn't know I was going the whole way with a man in a train'. Whether playing tart or bar-room singer (scoring a great comedy moment with her delicious lip-sync to a recording) she's a powerful performer.
Arthur James is suitably caddish as Catriona's fiancé, properly obsequious as Jekyll's manservant and plays the Ten Bells publican while Richard Latham is melodramatically ham as actor Richard Mansfield, a strict Presbyterian Jekyll senior and an ageing chess-partner friend of Jekyll who finds the first form of the transforming potion an effective forerunner of Viagra.
This is a team of players who work together in many supplementary roles, not least to people a bone-shaking train journey with ticket collectors, porters and animals in the countryside. It would be churlish not to respond to their energy and enthusiasm. They do things with such heart that Jonny Kemp's carefully contrived shambles demands your indulgence.
Until 6th June 2010
Reviewer: Howard Loxton