“Our bodies, our minds, our power” the ultimate message in this production of Jekyll and Hyde.
Influenced by such women as Emmeline Pankhurst, Florence Nightingale and Josephine Butler; all educated but were rarely able to exercise the creativity that their knowledge gave them. Women’s rights have come a long way since the Victorians but is it still more acceptable for a man to talk about pussy than, God forbid, a woman to even attempt public conversation on the topic of her own vagina? Women in this time were beginning to learn that the mould was cracking and attempted to find new ways to exist in their society, yet so many stories are still untold.
When we think of the Victorians we think of the stories that focus on men and mankind, particularly white, British, wealthy men. Where are the women of colour? The queer women? The disabled women? The poor women? We all know the lasting impression that stories have but is it always a good idea to share with the world our deepest and darkest thoughts? Appropriately, today is Day of the Girl and as I sit surrounded by young adults cheering for women’s change I ask myself, what version of this story will each person remember and will it reimagine our world for the better?
Based on the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson and written by Evan Placey, the National Youth Theatre takes us back to Victorian England, where civilised society meets seedy Soho in an adaptation which imagines the journey of Dr Jekyll’s widow, Harriet (Elizabeth McCafferty) a strong woman taking the reins. Harriet has the desire to live some other life and be another person.
Tired of not being taken seriously just because she is a woman, Harriet rebels against the court of men by continuing scientific experiments invented by her late husband, leading to her invention of Hyde. Hyde does not hide behind a man and she does not stay quiet. She definitely will wear what she wants and not what she is told, and in fact she will not take orders from any man. We are shown glimpses of other women’s stories and characters throughout, a mixture of doing what they’re told and challenging change – Leah Gaffey, Amarah Jae St. Aubyn and Rebecca Hesketh-Smith show us the varieties in the way women can support each other through friendships, campaigning and fighting but can equally keep women in the shadow of men – defending them and acting out of fear or ignorance. All three actors give us brilliant performances, making us laugh out loud, emphasise and generally care.
Laura Hopkins’ set is simple but effective, constantly transforming the space as we move back and forth through past and present. Costume also plays a big part in this piece creating a visual sense of time. The sounds are unnerving and atmospheric, particularly as we watch the transition of Jekyll to Hyde perfected by Roy Alexander Weise’s direction but ultimately, the remarkably believable and seemingly effortless performance of McCafferty.
We are exceptionally entertained throughout by other characters, such as the humorously dry and witty Abbie/Lucy (Rosella Doda) but the ultimate message is left with us by Florence Monroe (Jenny Walser), who, a modern twist in the production, reminds us that although change is happening, it isn’t happening fast enough and ultimately asks whether we can fix a system that is so broken without literally blowing it up and completely starting again.
Some of the messages are quite frightening: Is it wise to start a revolution? Can we help one sex without damaging the other? Will cutting off the dicks of men help make us equal? This is ultimately a thought-provoking piece that will certainly light a fire inside; a powerful message of feminism underlined with a unsettling radicalised movement. In reality do we want equality or justice and how will the younger viewers react to this piece? The future is in their hands.