Anyone who has ever seen the 1988 TV-film JACK THE RIPPER will remember that one of the undisputed highlights (not necessarily Michael Caine’s ‘Inspector Abberline’) was Armand Assante’s inspired portrayal of Victorian stage actor Richard Mansfield – best known for his ground-breaking and terrifying transformation from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde during his performance at London’s Lyceum theatre in 1888. In terms of terrifying audiences, there is unfortunately very little going on that will unsettle theatre goers planning on seeing the latest adaptation of JEKYLL & HYDE at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre.

Top playwright David Edgar (perhaps best known for DESTINY and the epic Dickens adaptation of NICHOLAS NICKLEBY) version of this play was first seen in an RSC production at London’s Barbican in 1991 and five years later in a revised version at Birmingham rep. In this third version the author has seen fit to revise the play yet again. The author feels that he made a mistake with his first effort in as much as the lead part(s) were played by two different actors. Here (as in 1996) it is played by one actor: Londoner Phil Daniels doing his best with two Scottish dialects, this the production team decided on this idea merely because author Robert Louis Stevenson was himself an Edinburgh man. Edgar sees the Jekyll & Hyde play as relevant to the current political climate but this is not overly apparent with this particular production. Many audience members would have been only two familiar with the plot. Dr. Henry Jekyll is a wealthy rich London physician and a rather nice man to boot but has an inherent interest in evil or rather the nature of it in man. To this end he creates a potion in his laboratory after a few deep philosophical conversations with his well to do friends Utterson ((Robin Kingsland), Enfield (Matthew Romain) and Dr. Lanyon (Ben Jones). Here this area is only briefly touched upon.

Those familiar with Stevenson’s novella will know that female characters are pretty much completely absent – they had been added for various later movie adaptations and here too more role play is given to women as well, to show a more personable side to the 'crusty old man's man and bachelor'. However, in a way this will only distract from the 'horror' element for seekers of chilling melodrama in Gothic Grand Guignol style. We see Jekyll as a kindly uncle and caring brother to widowed sister Katherine (Polly Frame) and her two teenage children Lucy (Rosie Abraham) and Charles (Anyebe Godwin) - although Charles looks closer to 25 and is supposed to be about 11. Well, that’s latter day PC casting standards for you… and judging from the remarks of some audience members sitting behind this reviewer the absurdity of it all did not go unnoticed. The small household also introduces us to maid Annie Loder (Grace Hogg-Robinson) who, due to unfortunate circumstances, soon finds herself in the employ and at the mercy of Dr. Jekyll’s household – Annie has travelled all the way from the West Country to the Doctor’s London address informing him that her brutal father has been beating her unmercifully (not altogether true) and so the kindly doctor promptly takes her in as his own maid rather to the concern of his faithful butler Poole (Sam Cox).

After several more experiments in his secret lab at the back of his home the beast known as Edward Hyde emerges - ' The most evil man in the world'. Maid Annie is perhaps just a little too inquisitive for her own good and after creeping into the lab she is raped in no time by the doctor’s alter-ego Mr. Hyde and becomes pregnant as a result. Hyde is soon off on his murdering trail and high-ranking Conservative MP Sir Danvers Carew receives the bloody end of the stick when he is brutally murdered in the street by Hyde. In killing Carew, Hyde’s dastardly act could be conceived as having acted out his socialist sentiments (some might see his point of justification). The problem is that Dr Jekyll cannot rid himself of the more forceful Hyde and he is running low on his antidote elixir. We witness the 'evil' starting to overtake Jekyll’s personality. It can only end in drama and tears with a shattering climax in Jekyll's lab.

Some eerie factors are achieved through clever lighting and the construction of which the lower part mainly functions as various domestic settings as well as the lab, and the upper part provides the nightly street scenes though the structure is more reminiscent of Victorian Edinburgh than Victorian London (where the story is set). Also, the gigantic cabinet containing bottles filled with all sorts of potions can only be seen by those who sit either in the middle of the left side of the auditorium, those wedged to the right sight wouldn’t have an inkling the cabinet even exists. Bad stage layout indeed!
One wanted this piece to be more 'horrific' as this is the realm that Stevenson's classic belongs to. There are also some elements of social injustice integrated – here mainly achieved by the juxtaposition of Annie (a cheekily resonant depiction from Anne Hogg-Robinson) working class West Country maid whose 'Worzel Gummidge' accent is mocked by the austere Poole.

The transformation from Jekyll into Hyde is played down as it is quite tricky to do so on stage (although Richard Mansfield did wonders in the late 19th century production) but even so, the only difference between Jekyll and Hyde (unrecognizable to his friends – what?) is the hunched gait, the malicious lopsided grin and the sudden swerve from an Edinburgh to a rougher Glaswegian-type (or was it Fife?) accent. In Edgar's original production the two actors portraying Jekyll and Hyde could be seen together discussing the nature of good and evil. Obviously for this production such discussion between the doctor and his alter ego had to go due to only one actor playing both parts though a previously filmed image juxtaposed onto the mirror could have worked magnificently. Phil Daniels, never a showy but solid actor from the realist school, fares better as Hyde and has an easier time with the heavier of the two Scots accent. Sam Cox gives solid support as Poole and Grace Hogg -Robinson near steals the show as perky victim Annie Loder. Still, this is more a Bunsen burner of a production rather than a bone-chilling Gothic melodrama!

(Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde runs until Sat 14th of April) - www.capitaltheatres.com

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