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Oct 07

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde: Theatre review by Paul Vates

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At Greenwich Theatre, London.

 

you just have to sit back and let it overwhelm you

Bracknell-based Blackeyed Theatre have toured this country since 2004, producing everything from Brecht plays to The Great Gatsby. They have previously visited Dracula and Frankenstein, too. Their current production is a return to this horror genre which obviously suits them really well. Nick Lane’s adaptation is as close to the book as a play can be, utilising monologues to zip the story along when it is needed.

Lane also directs, using a cast of four stunning actors to whisk us from scene to scene with precise choreography.

 

Ashley Sean-Cook – photo courtesy of Alex Harvey-Brown

 

At first, the whole piece seemed a little messy – a hotchpotch of styles: musical numbers, monologues, ensemble effects, live and recorded sound effects, recorded music, physical theatre, natural theatre, slow-motion … it goes on. What The 39 Steps does for comedy, nothing here is played for laughs, the intensity of the play driving through at all times, for instance when two characters mime jumping into a taxi to dash across London.

 

And it works.

The audience had a large number of teenagers and they gasped with awe at each revelation, turning the theatre into their own version of Gogglebox, reacting quite freely. This lack of restraint is wonderful to witness – the ‘awwww’ at the romance, the shock at the cruelty. A few ‘Duff-Duff’ Eastenders-style moments left them reeling and buzzing with excitement. They were truly gripped. It was like a pantomime without the jokes.

Jack Bannell – photo courtesy of Alex Harvey-Brown

On top of that, the hero of the play – assuming the weak Jekyll role and the masculine Hyde persona – is a Poldark lookalike. Jack Bannell has the long hair, the unshaven swagger of testosterone oozing from him as Hyde. From the moment he first appears, twirling his walking stick with gay abandon like a Terry-Thomas moustache tweak, we know he is dangerous. Then he physically shrinks and limps, to become the frail, desperate Jekyll – and the teens lapped it up.

Paige Round photo courtesy of Alex Harvey-Brown

Supporting this stand-out performance, there is Paige Round, primarily playing the Irish Eleanor Lanyon, both loving and lusting for  Jekyll and Hyde. She appears as a cockney tart and a housemaid, too, showing a grand versatility. As do Zach Lee and Ashley Sean-Cook, playing a multitude of characters throughout. Sean-Cook’s Dr Lanyon is touching and believable, a light character in this dark world. Lee’s solicitor Utterson, hard and edgy.

There is much not to be impressed with in this production. Although the lighting and the set suit the mood and fulfill all their requirements, it somehow feels dated and unadventurous in its presentation and style. It is theatrical box-ticking. Yet, it is undeniably spot-on for getting its points across. The darker, heavier and meatier elements of the story slightly brushed over, for the gothic gore – ‘giving them what they want’. For this, there is a lot to be admired. Knowing the book is on the GCSE syllabus has allowed the company to get the funding and have the courage to tour a full-on version.

It could so easily have been a long and dull, worthy and wordy adaptation of the text. I saw an RSC production many years ago that was just that. But Blackeyed have triumphed.

In the end, you just have to sit back and let it overwhelm you. It’s worth it!

 

 

 

Length 2 hours including interval    Ages 11+

Box Office Tickets are available from individual theatre box offices.

Details of the tour: www.blackeyedtheatre.co.uk

Twitter: @Blackeyedtheatr #JekyllandHyde

Director Nick Lane

Composer Tristan Parks

Designer Victoria Spearing

Costumes Naomi Gibbs

Lighting Claire Childs

Producer Adrian McDougall

Photography Alex Harvey-Brown