Sunday, 18 February 2018

REVIEW: Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde at the Rose Theatre, Kingston

Robert Louis Stevenson's gothic novella The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde written in 1885 is a tale that most of us are familiar with as the split personality descriptions have passed into every day usage but few will have read the book. David Edgar took the core elements of the familiar story and created new female characters to fill in a backstory to Dr Jekyll with his sister Katherine and her maid Annie in contrast to the stiff male characters of the book. This revival directed by Kate Saxon starts life at the Rose Theatre Kingston before a U.K. tour and seeks to create the dark sinister world on the edge of London society that Mr Hyde inhabits. The dark set designed by Simon Higlett sets the multiple locations in slick changes but generally results in sparsely furnished rooms and together the open stage and cavernous auditorium of the Rose theatre leaves most of the tension , drama and mystery to be created by the performers themselves . Too much time is spent in Act 1 in exposition with 2 characters on a high walkway explaining the background, developing the relationship between Jekyll and his sister or debating between Jekyll, Utterson and Lanyon the workings of body and mind.

Of course the essence of the story depends on the actor playing Jekyll and Phil Daniels is an experienced actor capable of conveying the two sides of the character's personality . In this production they have chosen to present the disreputable Mr Hyde with just a change of accent , a broad Glaswegian brogue and a twisted body frame but while it is distinctive this fails to create the persona described as twenty years younger than the respectable Jekyll or to convince us that other characters can't recognise the physical similarities between the two men. However as the personality of Mr Hyde begins to take more control , Daniels shows the torment and horror of his situation and builds to a powerful and tense final scene.

Annie, the maid, is played with youthful innocence by Grace Hogg-Robinson and is a good counter foil to Hyde in the critical final scene. We don't fully understand why she leaves the employment of his sister or why Jekyll takes her in so readily but we can feel her descent from confident young maid to desperate homeless waif. She also provides a strong contrast to the formal rigid loyal Poole played by Sam Cox.

The revival of this play about dual personalities seems very pertinent in the current world where the contrast between the public personas of politicians and celebrities is amplified by managed media while they seek to hide their private behaviours and secret liaisons from the wider public. Ultimately the darker side is harder to control and breaks through with the potential to destroy the public image . Even their closest associates can be taken in and are shocked by the
final exposure.

Phil Daniels is always an actor worth watching and in a dark intimate venue with the audience feeling closer to the action he will make a bigger impact. Here at the Rose with seats pushed back from the stage and a small handful seated on cushion under the courtyard ceiling it feels rather mechanical and wordy and the full horror of his actions is muted.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★
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