The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
First published in 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is one of the most famous horror stories of all time. The original novella popularised the gothic genre, revolutionised the written word, and cemented Stevenson as a master of his craft. But with a tale as famous as this, can anything new be imbued into it? Blackeyed Theatre’s 2020 online-stage adaptation of the celebrated narrative gives it an impressive go. It may not be perfect in places, but Nick Lane’s production makes Jekyll and Hyde as fresh as they’ve ever been.
The story of the enigmatic pair is best left unspoiled; indeed, part of the fun is realising why the case is so “strange”. In adapting the story for the stage, Lane has kept the narrative beats roughly the same, only tidying up the structure and hiding some loose threads. Interestingly, though, the production foregrounds the creation of Mr Hyde (Blake Kubena) over the mystery of his existence: unlike the novella, where Gabriel Utterson (Zach Lee) is the primary perspective, here Jekyll is the central character and a hefty portion of the play is dedicated to his viewpoint. Instead of being invited to unravel the puzzle of the vicious murders, viewers are instead shown the sordid science that causes them. Because of this, the audience loses the shocking twist that made the original tale so popular, though we gain the ability to interrogate Jekyll as a flawed hero. Blake Kubena constructs the scientist as a Faustus-like figure, damned by his obsessive desire for knowledge – it’s an inspired choice, and gives freshness to the well-known narrative.
Fans of the original will be pleased to discover that, aesthetically and tonally, it’s still Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde through and through. The gothic set relays an understated horror, and Tristan Parkes’s sound design is perfectly crafted to evoke a penny-dreadful feel. The intensity is effective, but it does mean moments set up to offer comedy or anachronistic commentary get lost, suffocated in the menacing atmosphere.
The cast, although small, do well to carry the meaty narrative on their shoulders. The standout, of course, is Kubena, who deftly balances the duality of his part with energy and verve, most enjoyably when he juggles Jekyll with Hyde, allowing the two personalities to come into conflict. Unfortunately, with the play clocking in at well over two hours, it does tend to repeat itself; though it never outstays its welcome, the pacing does become trying. Nevertheless, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde is an admirable piece of theatre – there’s no two ways about it!
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde was online on 18th September 2000. For further information visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde here: