From its outset - placing the widow of the infamous Dr Jekyll centre-stage, layering tale upon tale around her, transforming and paralleling the identities of characters all done over a time-hopping narrative - this Jekyll and Hyde, storms off, imaginatively far, from a simple adaptation.

There is much to enjoy in this National Youth Theatre production, directed by Roy Alexander Weise, which whisks up a number of feminist, social and even literary issues in a lively series of “chapters” that bring its literary source right into its discussions around the power of online blogs and social media messaging.

Harriet Jekyll (Elizabeth McCafferty) plays a respected Mrs Jekyll who, a year in to mourning, breaks with etiquette and sneaks out to watch a show in the seedier side of town. The experience introduces her to a liberated society that attracts a high court judge as well as rent boys and call girls. Back home, the widow replicates her late husband’s experiments, uncovering her own “Hyde” which she plays out in this underworld.

Unlike Mr Hyde in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, Flossie Hyde seems to retain a memory of her alter-ego and behaves knowingly between her two selves, operating consciously between her two characters. This modern twist on the ever-riveting relationship between the layers of personality seeps into our consciousness by the occasional interjection of a modern phrase or what appears to be a stage-hand on set. Gradually these two worlds interchange more frequently until the adaptation is revealed to be yet another layer within a more modern story, with more “real” and horrifying consequences.

Jekyll & Hyde keeps all these things moving at an admirably brisk pace. The rolling around of the sets in the first half contribute to the theme of continual transformation. There is a clever use of a mirror to connect the prison-like aspect of the home for Victorian women with the theatrical nature of the modern police interview room. This is the space claimed by Florence Monroe, the young feminist writer, to expose the continuing privileges of patriarchy. Men may try to keep women in “their place” but, as she proves, these places cannot not hold them.

Evan Placey’s script is clear enough to be entertaining despite juggling so many issues at structural, character and language levels. The heavy use of ‘bad’ language, however, served only to remind us that this is youth theatre, in a production that was proving mature enough without it.

Elizabeth McCafferty presents us with a respectful but strong Harriet and managed the difficult moments of physical transition successfully. Her wilder Flossie might benefit from developing a more identifiable character trait beyond a change in accent, but she is a strong lead, navigating a very wordy script and her dual character role with admirable sureness. Jenny Walser’s Florence transformation from innocent blogger to feminist mastermind was necessarily less melodramatic and mostly a matter of argument. The fact that she could become someone so different in our eyes but not hers became the final unsettling moment.

A brisk-paced, well-delivered, nicely staged production with enough layers and questions amid the social commentary to keep any audience engaged.
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