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The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson, adapted by Nick Lane
Hull Truck Theatre Company
Kendal Brewery Arts Centre

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

A bare stage, dressed with three chairs, some boxes a couple of tables and some basic test tubes, bottles of liquids, a hat stand and a cobwebbed red curtain as a backdrop; oh yes, at the front of the stage simple footlights. Three actors, two male, one female. The set, sparse. The production, writing, direction, lighting, music and acting, rich.

This was a stripped down production and pure, powerful theatre. When I told two friends that I was going to see Jekyll & Hyde they said that they had been Jekylled too many times and would give it a miss. They changed their minds, bought tickets, at the interval and end they were spellbound by this powerful production.

Young Dr Jekyll, body twisted and wracked by pain, no social graces, no time and no time for society, "he’s never been well," says his lawyer Utterson. His friend and fellow doctor, Dr Lanyon, a bit of a fop, heart on his sleeve, in love with and soon marries Eleanor, a music hall singer ‘The Irish Songbird’. Eleanor is strong minded, spars with Jekyll but encourages him in his research into the mind. "A man out of his time," says Utterson.

Jekyll is a pioneer and wants to change the way that the medical world treats the mentally ill. Instead of weird and torture-like physical treatments, Jekyll is convinced that the mind can be changed by chemical means. His experiments on rats and the poor and terminally ill are outside the law and lead, in part, to the breakdown between Jekyll and Lanyon. Another reason is the attraction between the powerful personalities of Jekyll and Eleanor, Lanyon’s wife.

Jekyll finally distills the ultimate personality changing potion and unable any longer to experiment on others takes the potion himself. The strong, arrogant and violent Mr Hyde is the result. Hyde is not wracked by pain. Where Jekyll is physically twisted and intellectually strong, Hyde is physically strong and straight but mentally twisted, capable of and taking pleasure in violence with both men and women.

The story is set and it moves to the inevitable deaths of Lanyon then Jekyll, or was it Hyde?

This is no cod Victorian melodrama with strangely coloured smoking potions and a hairy Mr Hyde, this is a finely-crafted adaptation that will keep you fastened to your seat.

James Weaver is a handsome Dr Jekyll and a dangerous Mr Hyde plus a few other characters along the way. John Gully is the analytical lawyer, Utterson and a delightful Dr Lanyon. Joanna Miller is a strong and gutsy Eleanor, various servants and quite a few ladies of ill repute.

Adaptation and direction is by Nick Lane, set and lighting director Graham Kirk, composer Tristan Parkes and costume design by Sian Thomas.

Buy the programme, it is fascinating.

Touring until 30 November.

Reviewer: Denis W McGeary