Venue: Jack Studio. 410 Brockley Road, London SE4 2DH
Credits: Adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson by Mark Stratford. Presented by Stratford Productions
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Susan Elkin | 28 Jan 2023 02:33am
With the possible exception of A Christmas Carol, Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is probably one of the most frequently adapted prose texts of all time. I’ve lost count of the number of stage versions I’ve seen over the years. Moreover this isn’t the first time I’ve seen it as a one man show – James Hyland and his Brother Wolf Company did it that way a few years ago. The novella is widely studied in schools too, often for GCSE, so that makes it a popular choice for theatre because teachers and parents will bring teenagers.
In Mark Stratford’s highly accomplished hands, though, it manages to feel freshly minted and that’s quite an achievement given that this is a tale everyone knows something about even if they haven’t read it. He uses Inspector Newcomen, investigating the death of Sir Danvers Carew as a framing device – gruff, rough and mopping his brow. Then he becomes the rather quiet, anxious, trustworthy, decent Mr Utterson the lawyer, who speaks in a soft voice with gentle RP vowels. Then there’s the Harley Street doctor friend whose accent is Scots. The story telling is as clear as it could possibly be.
Of course the reason it works so well with a single actor is because it investigates two extreme sides of the same personality. Stratford is initially urbane as Jekyll and pretty terrifying as the staring eyed, growling menacing Hyde – crouching to suggest a shorter man. “As Edward Hyde I was free to pursue all the activities denied tom me as Dr Jekyll” he observes in Jekyll mode, mentioning “undignified pleasure and precarious depravity”. We see him commit a gruesome murder, so convincingly mimed that we’re all wincing and we hear the screams of the terrified child he knocks over in the street. Other horrors are merely hinted at – after all Stevenson was fettered by Victorian censorship laws and Stratford’s adaptation is pretty faithful to the words the author used.
Stratford is a very talented actor. In the last few minutes, when the transforming drug is failing, he has to ricochet involuntarily between Jekyll and Hyde at speed and it’s dramatically exciting to watch. And I really admired his death scene complete with poison-induced involuntary twitches before he quietly gets up and resumes the Inspector Newcomen role to round off the narrative. Bravo, Mr Stratford.
The atmosphere is enhanced with some sinister sound effects and some evocative lighting. Both help to ratchet up the sinister mystery and struggle which lies at the heart of the piece.
This show is touring until June and is definitely one to catch if you possibly can.
First published by Sardines: https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/the-strange-case-of-dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde-2/