Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, London – until 28 September 2019
The public is currently reeling with secrets, lies and duplicity being played out by our politicians who appear two-faced and of two minds in the Brexit debate.
Ross McGregor, artistic director and powerhouse behind Arrows & Traps Theatre Company, has captured the zeitgeist with his modern, political adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde, which is having its London premiere at the Jack Studio Theatre ahead of a UK tour.
Thankfully he’s deliberately swerved the UK’s hottest potato and moved the story to America where the electorate are considering a post-Trump White House after the president’s impeachment. This is, undoubtedly, McGregor’s most ambitious and complex production to date. He’s come up with a riveting political thriller which references the classic Gothic novella without being hampered by it.
While Trump is pro-gun, anti Green, and siding with the anti-abortionists, racists and Middle American Christians, here we have his nemesis, an antihero whose greatest sin is love. Henry Jekyll is a young, ambitious and idealistic public servant with the charisma of a Kennedy and the charm of Jimmy Carter. As mayor of a city in Indiana he is appalled at the mass shootings in the nation’s schools.
He hits the presidential campaign trail for the Democrats on a ticket espousing gun control and an end to the right to bear arms, he supports a raft of eco-campaigns and speaks up – when he can – for gay and civil rights.
What’s not to like? He’s a shoo-in, isn’t he? But Henry has a secret which could not only scupper his chances of election but could also prove fatal for him and those around him. Could flawed investigative journalist Gabrielle Utterson, a woman weighed down with a cartload of emotional baggage, uncover the truth before it’s too late?
At the centre of this well-plotted and tense political noir is its beating, emotional heart, a standout turn by Will Pinchin as the tragic Jekyll, a man who is less a depraved monster and more a victim of circumstance. Meanwhile it’s the always superb Christopher Tester, as his alter-ego, Edward Hyde, who must assume dual identities, firstly as a bookish history teacher, and later as the devil incarnate.
This emotional triangle is completed by Lucy Ioannou’s powerful performance as the troubled Utterson. Sexual identity, broken relationships and dark family secrets all play their part in this action-packed story of power and politics.
McGregor the writer has created a modern masterpiece, full of unexpected twists and turns.
And, wearing his director’s hat, he’s pushed the boat out with innovative video inserts and time shift scenes, and ramped up the suspense with spot-on sound and lighting (from Anna Reddyhoff and Alistair Lax).
Performances from the cast of five are uniformly excellent with strong support from Gabrielle Nellis-Pain as brothel madam and Utterson’s emotional support, Imogen Poole, and Charlie Ryall as Hayley Lanyon.
Pinchin, who showed so much emotional depth as the creature in the company’s Frankenstein, once again delivers an outstanding, multi-layered and very physical turn as the tormented Jekyll.
And Tester, whose Hyde haunts every scene whether he’s on stage or not, creates a complex villain whose doomed relationship with Jekyll is a catalyst for the entire tragic tale.
The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde runs at the Jack Studio Theatre, Brockley, South East London until September 28 with a number of performances already sold-out.
Arrows and Traps are taking the production on the road this year and next for their debut UK tour, calling at Mill Studio, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford (Oct 10-12); Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham (Feb 26-28); Sundial Theatre, Cirencester (Feb 29); Library Theatre, Luton (March 4-5); Cramphorn Studio, Chelmsford (March 6); Dorchester Arts Centre, Dorset (March 11); Brookside Theatre, Romford (March 26-28) and Astor Theatre, Deal (April 3).
Don’t miss it.
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