Adapter/director Nick Lane makes a very good point in his programme interview: a modern audience cannot be shocked or even surprised by the revelation that 19th century audiences found so chilling, that Jekyll and Hyde are one: even those unfamiliar with the work of Robert Louis Stevenson surely know the term “a Jekyll and Hyde character”.
So, in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Nick Lane concentrates on an invented back story. Many key features of the original remain, notably Hyde’s irruptions of violence such as the murder of Sir Danvers Carew, but the context is much changed. Dr Jekyll becomes a medical pioneer, seeking a breakthrough in the treatment of mental disorders, and at the end it is claimed that his work should go on – not a great idea, I would have thought. He is also presented as sickly, even crippled, so that the robust Hyde becomes, in some ways, a desirable alternative. Most important to the narrative, his fellow-doctor, Lanyon, now has a wife who is fascinated by both Jekyll and Hyde and encourages experimentation of many kinds.
This is most ingenious and Nick Lane’s dialogue has, for the most part, an authentic period ring. However, it doesn’t always convince and it must be said that, in the time between striking melodramatic scenes and dramatically surreal moments, the new story sometimes plods.
The production of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is extremely assured, with some eerily over-lapping narrative to break up the conventional scenes. Five nights in the Studio Theatre at the company’s Hull base come about half-way through a 10-week tour of mostly one-nighters. So Graham Kirk’s set is inevitably small-scale, through crammed with meaningful detail, with his lighting and Tristan Parkes’ music strong on atmosphere.
James Weaver’s Dr Jekyll starts out as an obsessive in the tradition of Victor Frankenstein and he projects inner torment successfully, while his Hyde, though much harsher, remains close to his maker – he has fun with the occasional cameo, too, such as Inspector Newcomen, here a cousin of Sherlock Holmes’ Lestrade. John Gully moves effectively from the self-possessed lawyer Utterson to the timidly good-hearted Dr Lanyon, throwing in a vibrant account of Enfield’s first sighting of Hyde for good measure. Joanna Miller is capable enough as Eleanor Lanyon, though the character never really engages our emotions, and she, too, does well with the assorted characters and accents demanded of her.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde continues to tour until 30 November, including the following Yorkshire dates: