Love London Love Culture spoke to director Roy Alexander Weise about his production of Jekyll and Hyde, playing at the Ambassador’s Theatre as part National Youth Theatre’s West End repertory season.
Hi Roy – thank you so much for taking the time to talk to Love London Love Culture. Could you tell me a little bit more about your production of Jekyll and Hyde?
Our production of Jekyll and Hyde is an exciting reimagining of the original story that focussed solely on the experience of men, much like the majority of our history books and stories of the page, stage and screen. This production asks: “what happens when women take control?” and “how will they take control?”. It’s fun and mysterious and deeply, openly political. With everything that has been happening in the news lately about our beloved entertainment industry, it feels more apt than ever.
It’s a story that has fascinated many different directors over the years – has it been difficult to come up with a new interpretation for audiences to enjoy?
Well, I have had the luxury of not having to come up with the interpretation; our brilliant playwright Evan Placey spoke to me about the idea soon after we were paired for the gig by Paul Roseby, Artistic Director at the National Youth Theatre. I was really thrilled that we came from similar schools of thought and we were both excited about playing with the narrative. It has been a real journey together though, crafting the story from Evan’s early drafts. It’s been nice to have some creative input but Evan Placey is the mastermind behind this one. He’s tenacious and funny and very clever. I think you hear this through many of the characters. They say a lot of the things that Evan probably wants to howl at the world.
What do you think it is about Jekyll and Hyde that has made it into such classic story?
On first reflection to this question, I honestly thought “I have no idea! Why is it such a classic?” but I think again and place myself in the shoes of a reader 100 years ago or 50 years ago or even 30 years ago and the idea that we can be more than one person, the duality of man and woman, is fascinating. It still is. It always will be, because we are so surprising as human beings and we are capable of so much. The extremes are sometimes unfathomable and that’s the thrilling thing about the story and about us as people.
What do you hope audiences take away from your production?
I hope they take away the very important messages about the responsibility that men have to feminism and equality. I hope young women come away feeling like they are empowered to speak out and act when something isn’t acceptable. I hope that people realise that there is a difference between privilege and equality, and that equality is what oppressed people want. Not everything. Not all the power and money. Just enough of it to have the same quality of life as others.
How do you think that gender swapping has changed the impact on the story?
We haven’t gender swapped actually; we filled in the gaps in the story, of the female characters who were erased. We explored the wholesomeness of these women and the narratives that they might have experienced. Men were doing science and bashing one another over the head with books and egos in Victorian London. The women were untying their corsets, burning them, fist-fighting with police officers so they could vote. I know which story I think is more interesting.
How much have you enjoyed working with the National Youth Theatre on this production?
It’s been really tough in some ways as a director because there are so many aspects of the production to care for and nurture. I’ve never directed a play with 16 actors on a West End stage so this was hard. I feel such a responsibility to the actors to showcase them well, to the writer to deliver his baby, to the audience to present a strong political drama. I also felt a lot of pressure personally as a man to get this story right. I’m a black man. I know what it is to see my experience butchered on stage and on screen, the flaws in the accents, the inaccuracies in cultural representation, the missed opportunities, to give a real sense of the experience. I didn’t want anybody to feel the same as I have. I didn’t want to do that to women the way that some white directors have done to black audiences for a very long time. So, this was hard. But the National Youth Theatre have been so supportive. We had a beast on our hands and we came together to make it happen.
What have you enjoyed the most about directing this production?
Everyone who’s in it and who’s worked on it has been so amazing. It’s not been easy but we’ve kept the faith and worked hard together to make this important story stand tall on a West End stage.
For those who are planning on coming to see the production, what can they expect?
Something they literally have never seen before. It’s an innovative piece of theatre with real heart and humour.
Roy Alexander Weise’s production of Jekyll and Hyde continues to play as part of The National Youth Theatre’s West End REP season at the Ambassadors Theatre until 6th December.