This reworking of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale follows the eponymous character in a contemporary setting which modernises the story in order to relate to twenty-first century themes.
Don’t expect the Jekyll and Hyde of popular imagination. This story follows Ellie Jekyll, a stressed out surgeon, who lives with her terminally ill brother Simon and his carer Tom. Things get interesting when they encounter a wild new neighbour moving in next door: Abigail Hyde. The simple structure of the piece and the honest, believable performances lifts this character drama considerably. That said, the writing is strong, covering such hot-button issues as mental illness and euthanasia. The play also wears its Victorian origins very lightly – beyond the opening scene there is no more mention of Jekyll and Hyde.
Indeed, there is no transformation, no potion, no purging of evil to save the good in man. It could even be argued that Jekyll does more to lead Hyde astray than the other way round. And while this role reversal makes for complex and interesting characters it is perhaps misleading to give it the title Jekyll and Hyde. That’s not to say the piece is bad, or not enjoyable – far from it. But to attach a name like Jekyll and Hyde to a piece that is so tangential it smacks of a cynical marketing strategy that only serves to confuse the audience and their expectations.
The four central performances are grounded and thoughtful. The character’s vulnerable moments are played with a sensitivity and reality that makes them genuinely affecting. Ellie’s (Charlie Howitt) anxiety attack, for example, is played viscerally – the audience feels out of breath alongside her. Jack Govan’s portrayal of Simon is particularly impressive; masterfully in control of his physicality and debilitating effects of his illness. Lee Comley’s Tom has the most depth, his façade of cheerfulness begins to crack as the play takes its course and we begin to see a little of the emotional toll caring for the terminally ill takes. Abigail Hyde is possibly the most relatable character in the piece- a young woman, unemployed and with a yearning to travel. Kate Novak’s portrayal sees a bouncy, light exterior mask a nihilistic darker attitude to life, which again comes to reveal itself throughout the course of the play.
The misleading title aside, overall this taut relationship drama that has a lot to offer.
Jekyll and Hyde played at the Greenwich Theatre until October 11.