When David Edgar first adapted Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel for a Barbican production in 1991, Roger Allam and Simon Russell Beale took on the two iconic parts, with the former playing the tormented gentleman who experiments with a personality-warping drug and the latter portraying the violent ruffian the doctor transforms into. Here that adaptation is revived with Phil Daniels doubling down (and doubling up) by tackling both roles, in what is a straight-laced but largely faithful reproduction of the nineteenth-century classic.
The main thrust of the text dabbles in the grey area between civility and savagery, focussing on the two titular characters, inhabiting the same form but spliced apart by experimentation. The adaptation embellishes the plot, bringing periphery characters like Jekyll's sister Catherine and a number of his acquaintances into the fold. It delivers the central conceit well, and as Jekyll and Hyde's personas begin to spill into one another and dichotomies break down, the stakes are satisfyingly ratcheted up.
But Edgar is all say don't show – embellishing the story of the fateful Doctor Jekyll with long, protracted scenes about the civility of man and the concept of barbarity. It makes for a meandering first half, with lots of sitting and talking, while you desperately hunger for the meatier and edgier scenes that you know are coming.
Simon Higlett’s design, all coal-stains and exposed brick, summons a London swaddled in a late Victorian dirge, characters peeling themselves from the smog and stalking through the murkiness. Mark Jonathan's use of light, full of silhouette and chiaroscuro, adds the necessary malevolence. It is menacing, though the tension it creates is often dispelled by the more sedate passages sat in living rooms, all scattered chairs and static discussions.
Daniels, with twice the workload that Allam or Russell Beale faced, for his part fares much better in the role of doctor than in the role of delinquent. His well-crafted Jekyll is steely, capable of forced charm but always with a lingering sadness. Hyde, on the other hand, with a coarse Scottish accent, caricatured hunch and snarky sense of humour, never really convinces. It’s like a twisted mishmash of Limmy meets Partridge, with a bit of bruiser on the side. A solid performance comes from Sam Cox as the stiff-backed butler Poole, capable of adding a bit of humour with a witty aside from time to time.
The text leaves a lot of loose threads that are never sorted – Jekyll’s housemaid Annie, sexually assaulted by Hyde, alone on the street, pregnant and ostracised – is left by the wayside at the end of the play. The doctor’s warped relationship with his father, depicted in an ornate portrait that rests in Jekyll’s workshop, felt like a strange addition to Stevenson’s text on Edgar’s part, and distracted from the debate at the heart of the piece.
The second act becomes a lot tenser as Hyde's barbarity begins to spiral out of control which, aptly, means it plays like a performance in two parts, but mostly this is a perfectly adequate rumination on a juicy theme, delivered a nice dose of intrigue.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde runs at Rose Theatre Kingston until 17 February ahead of a UK tour.