Blackeyed Theatre have a penchant for the Gothic, evidenced by their previous works: Dracula and Frankenstein. Tonight, it’s the turn of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde. Glancing around the packed auditorium, the appeal of the story is clearly seen, there’s not an empty seat.
Stevenson’s novella warned, 190 years ago, of the implications of unregulated medical experimentation, and the dilemma of ethics versus scientific discovery is as relevant today as it always has been.
Adapter/director Nick Lane has taken the essence of Stevenson’s story, set it a decade later in the 1890s, a period of greater scientific and philosophical discovery and added a woman at it’s core.
Dr Henry Jeckyll is close to a medical discovery that will change neuroscience forever, however, he is forced to experiment on himself when his less than ethical methods are exposed.
The darkly lit, simplistic design sets the tone for what’s to come. A hodge-podge of dark wooden furniture becomes Jeckyll’s home and laboratory, the dark streets of Spitalfields, Wilton’s Music Hall, the mortuary, a horse-drawn carriage, Dr Lanyon’s house and Hyde’s lodgings.
The cast of four tackle all 16 characters with suitable Victorian melodrama and simple costume changes take them from role to role.
The action takes a while to warm and the pace is languid throughout. It takes to just shy of the interval for the first glimpse of the transformation from Jeckyll to Hyde, however, the slow-motion attack sequence at the end of Act One is hugely effective and beautifully realised. But, pace is the problem, while the novella is short and sharp, the inclusion of extraneous characters and the need to justify the reasons behind Jeckyll’s experimentation, slow the pace to a plod. The reason Stevenson’s story has endured is that it is close to perfect, tinkering isn’t necessary.
Entertaining, and surely handled, but a quickening of pace would have given this Gothic classic more power and punch.