They say the devil is in the details. But under James Weisz’ direction, the devil was dull and the details exasperating in Jonathan Holloway’s adaptation of the 1886 novella by Robert Louis Stevenson. Jekyll and Hyde at the Courtyard Theatre, Old Street, failed to evoke the spirit of Stevenson’s original thriller despite a sickly excess of darkness and smoke which, on reflection, seemed to compensate for an enduring lack of intensity.
No doubt Holloway’s play is a clever appropriation of the tale, rendering Dr. Jekyll a gender concerned woman (rather than a bi-curious man), thriving on sex and sexual politics simultaneously. Indeed, Holloway’s invention of Harriet Jekyll seems to invite a subtle comparison between nineteenth century dandyism and the horizon of the modern woman, breeches and all. It is an idea complimented by his transformation of Stevenson’s heroic Mr. Utterson into a weak, immoral character addicted to dirty Harriet’s desire.
But such comparisons were confused by fragile performances from the Brighton based cast. Melody Roche flaunted Harriet’s hysteria without relief so that the ‘split’ in Jekyll’s personality became a continuum. Consequently the deep tones of Gary Blair were necessary to distinguish her inner self – ‘Harry’ Hyde from Harriet, bad from good, wild from tamed – where they needn’t have been. So, unsurprisingly, Roche’s most convincing dialogues manifested behind the cover of a cloth screen and latterly under the cloak of her nemesis, herself transformed into Mr. Hyde at the play’s conclusion: perhaps more of a testament to the power of light and shadows, executed by Lauren Cameron. Acoustics, on the other hand, were wildly disproportioned; the only drama apparent in the small playhouse was created by the sound system as it shocked its audience awake after yet another lengthy discussion.
Similarly, Blair’s tastes as costume designer were more obvious than experimental, but it was with colour and vivacity that he raised expectations at the play’s opening. His exquisitely effeminate portrayal of Mr. Enfield, the flouncing womaniser and excitable story-teller, was enough to temporarily efface the increasing insipidity of Charlie Allen’s Mr. Utterson, a lawyer of limited charisma. Allen’s wooden disbelief at dark tales of murder, and latterly at the metamorphosis of his lover, was enough to collapse any suspension of disbelief held by the audience. Even at Blair’s reappearance as the broken Dr. Lanyon, Allen’s monotone performance was perpetually underwhelmed, slowing down the process of discovery so that, by the third scene, I was both lamenting Holloway’s academic attention to detail, and extremely grateful of the play’s short duration.