This production of The Strange Case Of Doctor Jekyll & Mr. Hyde feels like a hybrid between The 39 Steps and The Woman In Black. Bracknell based company Blackeyed Theatre know what they’re doing and do it well; this is not the first time the company have adapted a classic text for a small, multi-roling cast, and their tried and tested formula delivers another slick piece of work. Using a stripped back set composed of gnarled oak woodwork accompanied by an evocative score of haunting Victorian ballads this adaptation captures the spirit of the gothic literary genre.
The direction and performances of the cast are strong, however, there are moments where the writing holds the piece back. The major change from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella is the addition of a new character, Eleanor (Paige Round), the wife of Jekyll’s assistant Hastie, and Hyde’s on-again-off-again lover. Although Eleanor is the character I feel mostly personally invested in throughout, the jumping between her storyline and that of the novel’s protagonist Gabriel (Zach Lee) makes the plot difficult to follow. Although these leaps are sometimes signposted by characters stating the year, I find myself getting lost in places and struggling to keep up with exactly where the narratives converged.
There are several questions that are continually unanswered, such as why nobody recognises Mr. Hyde as Dr. Jekyll when his appearance does not change, or why Hyde is unable to produce more of the formula when necessary. Often things happens just offstage, but aren’t clarified until several scenes later. An old man is marked as Hyde’s first kill when it is heavily implied that he murdered a sex worker scenes earlier, only for her to reappear later clarifying that he only maimed her. Despite being excellently staged and well acted, the script could benefit from being tightened up in places, or restructured to make the chronology easier to follow. It’s a risk presenting a non-linear narrative when your central character has dual personalities, and it doesn’t take much to slip from gripping into confusing.
Blake Kubena’s performance as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde is everything you would want from a gothic antihero and each member of the cast meets his energy throughout. Particularly engaging is Ashley Sean-Cook’s performance of the mild mannered Hastie, who serves as the moral centre of the piece. He plays the role of Jekyll’s friend and Eleanor’s husband with warmth and charm, and delivers some of the most touching moments within the show.
The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde promises a chilling gothic thriller, and delivers just that. For fans of good old fashioned mystery or GCSE classes studying English or Drama I suspect this show would be a hit. It successfully envelops its audience in the foggy world of Victorian London and manages to capture the spirit of the novella in a darkly spellbinding way.
The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is playing at South Hill Park Arts Centre until 18 September 2020. For more information and tickets, see South Hill Park’s website.