Thanks for nothing Robert Louis Stevenson! You know how many times I’ve had to put up with a variation of a Jekyll and Hyde joke ever since primary school? Well, do you? No, neither do I… but it’s a LOT. What always amuses me is that most people assume, because he has the stranger name, that Jekyll is the evil one. Us Hyde’s know better, much better. Cue evil laughter...
Seriously though, this is testament to the enduring popularity of the novella ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ first published in 1886. Many adaptations have appeared since as we remain fascinated by the duality of a man who can embody both evil and goodness and what might happen if we acted on our basest instincts.
This brings us to the Kalamunda Dramatic Society’s latest production.
The respected Doctor Jekyll (Keith Scrivens) laments a life lacking in adventure while talking with colleague, Hastie Lanyon (Gareth Sambridge), and lawyer Gabriel Utterson (John Bevan). They would like to think of themselves as the Three Musketeers but grey hair and beige realities betray them. Jekyll has published a paper including details of a formula he believes can unlock the primal inner being of a person. This is met with universal derision. Utterson’s nephew, Richard Enfield (Adrian Roberts) arrives to introduce his fiancé from America, Helen O’Neill (Nicola Chapman) and Jekyll takes quite the shine to her especially as she has read everything he has written.
Later Jekyll uses the name Edward Hyde to check on a working girl in a house of ill repute who had turned her ankle. He ends up seeing the much sought after Cybel (Jodie Hansen) but cannot ‘seal the deal’ as he diagnoses her with bronchitis and urges her to rest instead. In response to this ‘failure’ he injects himself with his formula for the first time and the brute, Hyde, comes into being with tragic results, most notably for Enfield who frequents the brothel, betraying Helen’s trust; and Lanyon who becomes an unwary accomplice.
Then there is the Maid (Kate O’Sullivan) and the Butler (Stuart Porter) both of whom add a critical dimension of wicked mischievousness as they comment on proceedings and even cajole the other characters at times. Not only that but O’Sullivan and Porter play a variety of other roles as required with a diverse set of accents, from Jekyll’s personal servants, to employees of the house of ill repute to, amusingly, police officers on the trail of Hyde as the body count rises.
They also do all the scene changes involving two large, black boxes that are used to represent desks or a laboratory bench or a bed in the brothel; wooden chairs; and, of course, pointing out where the doors are, a running gag that just when you think is flagging has a nice, final payoff. This means the transitions are seamless because the two of them are giving us information while in the process and it’s all very droll and engaging. O’Sullivan and Porter are both standouts and threaten to steal the show.
Scrivens is very good as the increasingly frustrated Jekyll and the demonic Hyde with an impressive delineation between the two, helped by a wig that is possibly the scariest thing in the show. If that thing had moved of its own accord I was out of there! I joke, but there are a couple of throwaway lines about the physical transformation and I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek tone throughout. Scrivens certainly appears to revel in the scene chewing intensity of Hyde. The rest of the cast give solid support and it’s a strong production with a sly awareness of the narrative devices it deploys.
The first act builds nicely to the inevitable, grisly conclusion of Jekyll’s transformation into Hyde which begins to occur unassisted by the formula. I must admit though, the second act suffers when a section is played out in 'flashback' as Utterson, Cybel and Helen try to unravel the mystery of what is happening. The problem being the audience is already well ahead of them so we’re waiting for the characters to catch up before the final confrontation (amusingly announced as ‘the final scene’ by the Maid and Butler) in Jekyll’s laboratory. This tends to rob the show of some momentum and also sees Jekyll/Hyde sidelined as we switch to a lot more exposition as the conclusion slowly dawns upon them that Jekyll is Hyde. The outcome of the final scene has been well set up but somehow felt a little anti-climactic.
All in all though, I really enjoyed this production, especially its sly sense of humour. Directed by Timothy Edwards and Michael McAllan, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is on until the 31st of May at the Town Square Theatre in Kalamunda.