The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is probably one of the most well-known gothic stories by Robert Louis Stevenson. It engages with the split of the human personality and presents the audience with a doctor’s uncanny experiments with separating his darker character traits from the good ones. By creating a second identity, Dr. Jekyll tries to disengage from the shadows of his mind, imposing them on the persona of Mr. Hyde.
One might think that yet another interpretation of Stevenson’s work could hardly offer much of a new experience on stage. However, this adaptation by David Edgar, first presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican in 1991, manages to strike the right balance between maintaining the original storyline and adding a sense of individuality to the events. Having read the original novel and watched several different film versions, I had various characteristics of different adaptations merged in my head, which made it interesting to see which of those would be taken up here. Edgar’s decision to include female characters and introduce some of the doctor’s family, who did not appear in the original, gives the story a fresh undertone and offers a new dimension to the character of Dr. Jekyll (Phil Daniels).
With a female director, it can only be expected that the additional female characters appear with special emphasis. Kate Saxon even creates another female character who not only helps to bridge the scenes through her singing, but also plays an important role in accentuating the darkness in Jekyll and Hyde’s journey. The music by Richard Hammarton blends in with the storyline and presents an individualistic way of communicating the dark atmosphere of the play.
Choosing only one actor to portray both sides of the doctor’s personality proved successful, as Daniels manages to expose the distinct traits of Jekyll and Hyde, and it is always clear which of the two is present in the scene. I was very positively surprised with his performance of Jekyll’s transformation in front of the audience, which could not have worked better with two different actors.
The stage design complements the performance by creating the perfect world of light and darkness for the eerie events in Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory. Spatial transitions as well as light and sound effects work very well together and emphasise the uncanny journey of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Edgar’s adaptation of Stevenson’s work does justice to the original by creating just the right atmosphere one would expect from a gothic horror story. This version is definitely one I have not seen before and worth adding to one’s personal collection of versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Guest reviewer: Michelle Carolin