There is an audible gasp from the audience as a man enters through a door wearing a blood-soaked shirt. Tearing it off, he throws it at the woman who has been awaiting his return. In no uncertain terms, he tells her to get rid of it. Meanwhile, he pulls a clean white substitute out from a nearby drawer, slipping it on without a second thought. The audience let out a nervous laugh. One assumes at the convenience of such an action. But the man’s resemblance to a certain scything Ross Poldark might also have had undue effect. We are far from the Cornish coast here, however. Instead, Black-Eyed Theatre have encamped us to 19th Century London, where The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde takes place. The story is a melting pot of ethical dilemmas. Yet even as it provokes deep thought, it does not rest on the ambiguities that arise from such matters. At its heart is a gripping narrative, driven by the decisions of its four main characters, and twisting and turning from the consequences of their actions. It certainly makes you think. But it also thoroughly entertains.
The man of the above sequence is one Edward Hyde. He is the creation of one Henry Jekyll. Close to a neurological discovery that could change the face of medical science, he is abruptly stopped in his tracks by his close friend and colleague Hastings Lanyon (Ashley Sean-Cook). He has a serious issue with the unethical methods of Jekyll’s experiments. Threatened with exposure, Jekyll is forced to experiment on himself, resulting in the emergence of this brutal and murderous character. Jack Bennell is the person tasked with switching between two sides of the same man and he does so with aplomb. There is a clear distinction between the benign and broken speech of Henry Jekyll and the confident, arrogant swagger of Hyde. Whilst the former uses his stick for support, the latter swings it about like a sword. Indeed, one of the most striking scenes in this production is where Hyde, fully embodied for the first time, sets upon a passer-by and bludgeons him to death. The slow-motion choreography, complete with precise movement, subdued lighting, and the emergence of a blood-red background, create a horrifically compelling set-piece that deserves the greatest of plaudits. It is this brutality which is laid incredibly bare throughout the second half, as Hyde begins to take over the body of his frail other. Needless to say, it can get violent at times – hence the age restriction – but it is not too overly graphic either. The music does a great job of emphasising this brutality and violence. Tristan Parkes has produced some wonderful compositions that also help create suspense. There is a real sense of foreboding in the low-playing violins, the hard-hitting drumbeat, and the repetitive screeching of two piano keys. Moreover, the dissonant sound of Paige Round’s folk harmonies, over Hyde’s looming darkness and despondency, make for a clever piece of theatre, cruelly playing with the emotions of the audience. Extraordinarily compelling.
Given a new lease of life by Black-Eyed Theatre, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is an exhilarating adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale. It may turn slightly melodramatic towards the end courtesy of Eleanor (Round) and Hyde’s romantic links. Otherwise, it is a largely absorbing, thought-provoking piece of theatre. Its aesthetic realism is something to behold, and its soundtrack adds perfectly to a chilling narrative. One thing’s for sure, it is a positively gripping formula that will allow you to indulge your dark side. That’s certainly better than acting on it, don’t you think…
Originally written as part of Young Critics North Wales.