BWW Review: JEKYLL & HYDE, Ambassadors Theatre
In Robert Louis Stevenson's original Victorian-era novel, women don't seem to exist. They are erased from the narrative, yet their stories are probably some of the most important. In this reimagining, Evan Placey positions our focus on Dr Jekyll's widow, Harriet, showing how she deals with grief and oppression.
One thing's for sure - it's not a friendly world out there. Women are fighting for their rights. We've not even reached the stage of petitioning for an equal vote, instead women simply wish to be recognised as people. We see females as prostitutes, but we also see them as protestors.
Elizabeth McCafferty leads the cast, and works hard to effectively demonstrate a clear contrast between the two characters. Her Jekyll is melancholic and distant, whereas her Hyde is alert and dangerous. Her transition to the monster is superb; she violently thrashes and contorts her body to harrowing sounds composed by Odinn Orn Hilmarsson.
McCafferty looks fabulous in black - a person mourning has never looked better. Yet it is Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn who steals the show in her role as Gertrude. She is the bitchy friend, a sarcastic teaser. She hopes to lose her husband so that she gets to grieve in such glamour.
With an audience full of noisy schoolchildren, the cast does well to hold their own amidst the lively distractions. In fact, they take it all in their stride, and at times the afternoon becomes somewhat pantomime, with the actors over-exaggerating their innuendos in order to get out those extra few laughs.
Roy Alexander Weise's direction takes risks, and he isn't afraid to keep in the many expletives for the school performance. They all have their place in the show, used by Leah Gaffey's Martha to reclaim words usually spoken to denounce women.
Laura Hopkins' set design is efficiently moveable, but rather too simple, sitting awkwardly on the stage. You would expect Dr Jekyll's lab to be a grand cauldron of chemicals, but with only a few test tubes, the odd cylinder and a tiny bit of smoke, it leaves you wondering if the experiment was ever worth it.
The second act is more political than the first, and Placey seems more comfortable writing in this vein. We meet Jenny Walser's Florence Moon, an 18-year-old A-Level student whose blog has inspired radical extremists, 'The Fembots'. The group uses Moon's fan-fiction to incite violent attacks against men around the country. Placey parallels Stevenson's novel with this modern-day feminist struggle.
There are times when it feels like a youth theatre is putting on a show, but there are also moments of genius. Voices need to be projected, and transitions need to be worked on, but it has the makings of a strong piece for NYT's Rep Company.
Jekyll & Hyde at the Ambassadors Theatre until 6 December
Photo credit: National Youth Theatre