BWW Review: THE STRANGE CASE OF JEKYLL & HYDE, Jack Studio Theatre
Arrows and Traps go for another update on a classic with their latest production, The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde and, like many in their catalogue, its an interesting take.
Henry Jekyll is a mayor in small town Indiana with dreams of running as the Democratic Party nominee in the 2020 Presidential race. A much loved liberal with a radical approach to gun control, he harbours a secret past in which his gay, Republican, lover, History teacher Edward Hyde, was gunned down in a school shooting. But reporter, Gabrielle Utterson, is investigating a grisly murder of an underage sex worker and Hyde seems to match the killer's profile - though he's long dead. But why is Jekyll's name on a cheque - and why are the two men's handwriting so similar?
Often re-workings as radical as this one can lose the detail in the tricksiness required to make it all hang together, but that pitfall has been skilfully avoided - the transformations in a play about transformations work well. The approach also allows writer, Ross McGregor, to bring out some of the source material's more disguised themes (the novella was published in 1886 after all) and to nail some of today's political hypocrisies without ever being heavy-handed.
Will Pinchin plays Mayor Jekyll with the public image of iron clad certainty required by a politician these days, but with private fears and doubts (as they all must harbour, those without personality disorders anyway) gnawing away at his soul. Christopher Tester (looking rather like Robert Louis Stevenson himself), gives us an eloquent and committed Hyde, with just that initial speck of arrogance that metastasises into psychosis.
They get good support from rest of the cast, Lucy Ioannou, Gabrielle Nellis-Pain and Charlie Ryall, even if their roles are (perhaps inevitably) a little one-pitched with all the shapeshifting and attitude adjusting going on elsewhere.
For all that's good in the play, it does feel (at 140 minutes including the interval) a little too long. That may be because we're so familiar with the storyline that even the more innovative variations from the original don't take us far from a very well worn path. And, though there's some fine video work from Andy Ioannou and Daniel Frampton, inevitably there are many long static conversations and speeches in which characters advance the narrative and explain backstories. The structure of going backwards and forwards in time also saps some of the pace from the show - and pace is critical if we know the characters and the narrative arc so well.
That said, one sees so many versions of this classic (the same applies the thematically similar The Picture of Dorian Gray) that credit is due for finding anything truly new in its tale. And this production does.
The Strange Case Of Jekyll & Hyde continues at the Jack Studio Theatre until 28 September.
Photo Davor Tovarlaza