The ‘Strange Case’ of a Theatre Trip
Before I say anything else, I just want to take a moment to realise the immense nature of what we experienced last week. A SCHOOL TRIP!!!! In order to enrich our understanding of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the English Department gave Year 10 and 11 students the opportunity to see an adaptation of the book at the Lighthouse Theatre, Poole. I mentioned that it was an adaptation didn’t I ….
Anyway, an afternoon off is always a welcome addition to any day. Clutching our ticket in one hand and a packet of sweets in the other… oh wait we can’t have sweets after all… Clutching our ticket in one hand, we entered the auditorium. After a cacophony of “Shhhhhhhhh” from the multitude of teenagers filling the room, the play began with four masked characters entering the stage to a blood-red backdrop, eerie music and the unrelenting voice of Mr Hyde … the suggestion of evil was unmistakable. The fixed set was cleverly constructed out of wooden furniture and doors, and dressed with details representative of a laboratory and study. Different shades in the wood demonstrated the contrasting characters of Jekyll and Hyde, and occasional set pieces arranged out of place (for example, a chair placed upon a sideboard) gave a disconcerting, abnormal atmosphere. Despite the set feeling claustrophobic and cluttered, it also had a sense of order and clarity; further suggestion of the contrasts to come.
The cast was made up of only four members, who collectively took on 16 different characters. Mr Utterson, Jekyll’s lawyer and confidant, expertly narrated us through the story and offered the occasional unexpected moment of comic relief to lighten the mood. I was intrigued to see how the transition from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde would be managed on an open stage and I was not disappointed. Jack Bannell (Jekyll/Hyde) was outstanding and his ‘change’ from frail, disease ridden scientist to depraved, swaggering, forceful man was expertly delivered without using props. A simple change of voice and movement allowed a definite sense of madness to descend. Not a monster mask in sight!
First published in 1886 as a novella, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has seen many adaptations over the years. This time it was the turn of Blackeyed Theatre alongside Nick Lane (adaptor and director) to reimagine this legendary story. Lane started work as an actor until, aged 26, spinal injury brought his acting career to an abrupt end. His interpretation of Dr Jekyll is very likely to have been influenced by his own circumstances and the contrast between the crippled, ‘good’ Mr Jekyll and the robust, ‘evil’ Mr Hyde was palpable. The dilemma was all too clear … If you had the option to take a substance with the potential to return your health and strength, despite the consequences – would you take it?
Lane had certainly made this version of the classic his own … no less by choosing to include a female lead to play Lanyon’s wife and Jekyll’s love interest. This was a significant departure from the original text and introduced a unique explanation for Mr Hyde’s behaviour, as well as providing a source of uncomfortable embarrassment for the mostly teenage audience. To be honest I found the whole romantic angle just a little bit weird; not just since Lanyon is the story’s only really likeable character, but also because I believe Hyde should represent violence, not passion. It seemed as though the boundaries were being loosened, rather than a pure evil emerging.
This psychological fantasy by Robert Louis Stevenson that Year 11 have all studied leaves plenty to the imagination. Lane’s embellishments, however, created a clever backstory that not only interlinked the characters, but also made sense of Dr Jekyll’s motives and elaborate experiments. There was almost a more virtuous, honourable justification to his actions, but I still felt the clear sense of selfishness in his need to be free from limitations. I can’t help but worry that Year 10 could become rather confused when they come to study the book next year. Even with Edmodo on his side, Mr Stroud is going to have a hard time explaining this one!