Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, London – until 28 September 2019
Well if you’re going to do the classics, you might as well do them like this. Ross McGregor’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella updates The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde to the 2020 US presidential election but it also infuses the story with an undeniable air of menace and queerness that at once feels contemporary and entirely respectful of the source.
McGregor has taken clear inspiration from ‘Mayor Pete’ for his version of Henry Jekyll, an energetic young senator from Indiana who, in light of Trump’s impeachment, dares to dream of rescuing the Oval Office. Against a backdrop of seemingly never-ending school shootings, his platform is a vociferously anti-gun one but as investigative journalist Gabrielle joins his team, she discovers there’s more than just a skeleton in the closet…
That it works well should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Arrows & Traps’ work. Jekyll & Hyde follows reinterpretations of Frankenstein and Dracula in finding fresh takes on familiar Gothic material but this queer noir approach is a real thrill to behold. Charlotte Cooke’s flexible design allows for Anna Reddyhoff’s lighting and Andy Ioannou and Daniel Frampton’s video work to set a real moodiness, under the rumbles of Alistair Lax’s soundscapes.
Performances hit the mark from top to bottom. Lucy Ioannou’s superbly intense Gabrielle is an investigator in the Philip Marlowe mould, haunted by a past that no amount of hard drinking and women can obscure and developing beautifully as the play progresses. Christopher Tester revels in the chance to hit the extremes as all shades of Hyde. And Will Pinchin nails both the slightly too-bright persona of the modern politician and the physical torment of his cursed transformation.
The production aims for, and lands, all sorts of topicality but in some ways, a greater horror comes from how it doesn’t go as far as real life. From “piccaninnies” and “letterboxes” to “shithole countries” and the “truly ugly”, numerous world leaders are showing us their true selves without the excuse of…well, spoilers! It’s a mark of McGregor’s eerie prescience and his restraint that this Jekyll & Hyde remains so powerful without going too far in the name of relevance. What we do get is a contemporary adaptation that speaks to the ages.
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Davor Tovarlaza @The Ocular Creative
The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde is booking at the Brockley Jack Theatre until 28th September, then plays Mill Studio Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford 10th – 12th October.
The show will also tour in 2020 to Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham; Sundial Theatre, Cirencester; Library Theatre, Luton; Cramphorn Studio, Chelmsford; Dorchester Arts Centre, Dorset; Brookside Theatre, Romford; and Astor Theatre, Deal
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