Jonathan Holloway’s reimagined Jekyll and Hyde – has the potential to be a brilliant idea with its steampunk-cabaret style production and gender switching between Jekyll and Hyde, but it fails somewhat in the execution. Whether something got lost in translation from this Hong Kong-UK collaboration I’m not sure – the Chinese references seem rather tacked on as back story. The production uses the source material as its inspiration, but then veers off in unusual directions.
It uses the traditional white face paint of Chinese theatre, mixed with a physical style and heightened melodramatic acting, with some interludes of music and dancing thrown in for good measure. The play sets the story of Jekyll and Hyde inside a framing device – a publisher has come to buy a manuscript of a dreadful tale which will make her fortune – the tale she is told is the terrible story we are about to witness scenes from.
Neil Irish’s set astounds – grills set in the floor leech out fog and red lights, above the stage dozens of red Chinese lanterns cluster, Victorian steampunk decadence, set the backdrop for the story about to be revealed, through trapdoors and revolving doors. Very atmospheric, and the blinding white lights keep the audience on tenterhooks.
The original story’s male Jekyll is recast as a female doctor from a wartorn country, who has been damaged so badly by her experiences at the hands of men, and rejection in her profession in the UK, that she’s gone insane. Yet her aim is to transform herself into the very thing she despises, a man, Hyde, who displays all the masculine traits she’s afraid of. (This may seem a familiar idea to horror buffs, who might remember the 1971 Hammer version of the story, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, and indeed there are some grand guignol moments in the play that give echoes of the hamminess of the film.)
The performances of the two leads, Olivia Winteringham as Jekyll/Hyde and Michael Edwards as Henry Utterson, her husband, are compelling to watch, though making both Jekyll and Hyde as mad as each other, loses something of the internal moral struggle of the original story, and makes it hard to care about the ultimate fate of either.
Overall, it’s an interesting idea and an enjoyable visual spectacle, but take it on its own values, rather than as faithful to the original.