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The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde (Susan Elkin reviews)

The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde
Adapted by Ross McGregor from the novel by Robert Lewis Stevenson. Produced by Arrows & Traps.
performance date: 04 Sep 2019
venue: Brockley Jack Theatre SE4 2DH

Photos: Davor Tovarlaza @The Ocular Creative

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I’ve seen many adaptations of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s 1886 novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde over the years. It’s not usually a prospect which enthuses me because I’ve never warmed to the novel despite having taught it several times to secondary school English classes. But Ross McGregor’s riveting – and gloriously topical – reworking therefore took me by surprise.

We are a year or two ahead in the USA. Trump has just been impeached for corruption and Henry Jekyll, a liberal young mayor from Indiana announces that he will run for president. But gradually we realise that there’s a man in his life. He’s called Hyde and they start as a gay couple but then strange, horrifying things begin to happen. It’s very clever and so far from Stevenson that it feels like a fresh new play full of very current issues including racism, homophobia and paedophilia. The content is uncompromising and you have to listen and pay attention but that actually adds to the quality of the experience

The standard of the acting is very high too. Will Pinchin, who looks like the young Dick van Dyke, has exactly the right manner for a clean living, evangelical American politician. And he handles his character’s drug-fuelled breakdown beautifully, his hand settling into deformed stroke-like positions and his back arching.

As Gabrielle Utterson, Jekyll’s press secretary who also has a huge issue in her own life, Lucy Ioannou is outstanding, She starts by being unsmiling and sardonic with very wry but telling facial expressions and then eventually succumbs to her own agony as the reality of what she is dealing with is finally, and very dramatically resolved.

There’s excellent naturalistic acting form Gabrielle Nellis-Pain as the prostitute who’s (partly) a friend who supports Utterson. Charlie Ryall delights as Hayley who is dying very convincingly of radiation sickness (cue for neat work with ultra violet light) and Christopher Tester is good as Hyde especially in the early stages when he’s simply a teacher in a relationship with Jekyll.

The inventive set (Charlotte Cooke) supports all this well too. There’s a semi-transparent screen behind which characters can appear to be on TV or be for some other reason blurred. And what a treat to see a serious play which relies on neither stage smoke nor strobe lighting. Arrows and Traps are at the beginning of a big tour with this production through to April 2020. It deserves to do well.

 
 First published by Sardines: http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-Arrows%20&%20Traps-The%20Strange%20Case%20of%20Jekyll%20&%20Hyde&reviewsID=3688
 
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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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