Jonathan Holloway's Jekyll & Hyde, which has been re-imagined in this production currently playing at Southwark Playhouse. The director, Jessica Edwards, notes in the programme that Jekyll & Hyde is a story that is so well known and mis-remembered, it gives the team a great deal of licence to unpick its ideas and mess around with it. They have indeed and it works quite well using a range of theatrical tricks, music and some good old fashioned shocks.
Upon entering the theatre you can't help but notice the rather grimy but strangely evocative set that serves as a living room, locations in south Lambeth and other parts in between. You know you're entering into the Victorian period of gothic horror.
The piece starts with two men. One is a back-room book dealer and is interested in buying the story of Jekyll and Hyde. They then proceed to support the story enacted with cello, banjo and a range of musical instruments as the protagonists emerge to tell the story of desire, experimentation and metamorphosis.
Dr Jekyll (played here by Cristina Catalina), is a foreign woman in London. She is also a scientist and fiercely independent. She is not interested in marriage as under British law she would lose her rights, property and status if she did. Instead she is focused on her important experiments. But a chance encounter with an upstanding lawyer, Henry Utterson (Michael Edwards), has led to a romantic entanglement that neither anticipates. Particularly as murders mount and questions continue to be asked about her unusual cousin who seeks to benefit from Dr Jekyll's estate.
During the climactic metamorphosis, it is not necessarily what you see that is shocking (although one woman exclaimed rather loudly and dramatically "Oh. My. God"), but what Dr Jekyll has become as Hyde. You are asked not to give away the surprises so I will not elaborate... But apart from the surprise there is also a bit of blood too.
I actually would have liked to see the piece move quickly into the story as the framing seemed to interrupt the flow of the piece. Perhaps a scene or two expanding the relationship between Utterson and Dr Jekyll would have helped as well understand their curiosity with each other rather than them simply meeting. But still what you have here is a refreshing new take on the story that manages to be funny, shocking and intelligent. Set design, lighting, costumes and performances all work well in creating a Victorian gothic horror drama with a modern twist.
It was first performed at the Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh in August this year and is produced by Flipping the Bird, Red Shift and ABG Productions. It was well-received there and it is great to see the production transferred to London. Although even in the space known as "The Little" at Southwark Playhouse, it seems less claustrophobic than it was described when it was at Edinburgh, it has the added benefit of knowing that the scenes could have taken place in the surrounding neighbourhood... Which will make that walk back to the tube all the more thrilling for you.
Jekyll & Hyde runs at The Little in Southwark Playhouse until Saturday 19 October 2013. Showtimes are at 7.30pm and the running time is around an hour.
Jekyll & Hyde from jeremy carne on Vimeo.