Monday, 9 September 2019

REVIEW: The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“The British aren’t coming back, they have their own problems!”

The Arrows and Traps Theatre company returns with a new piece which will be touring the UK in the next months and is currently showing at the Brockley Jack Theatre. It is a new adaptation of The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde (originally written in 1885 by Robert Louis Stevenson), set around 2020 – The President of The United States has fallen, impeached for corruption and now awaits trial. As the American senate slides into chaos, election fever grips the nation. In the wake of yet another mass shooting, Mayor Henry Jekyll, a bold, young liberal announces his candidacy to run for the Oval Office. His one promise: to end America’s toxic love affair with guns.

This is a very clever rewriting of the original (which I haven’t read I must admit – must get on that) with even the tiniest elements being transposed into our times of divided societies and difficult debates. Utterson’s original analysis of handwriting is now done by an app, and Edward Hyde’s trampling of a young girl turns into a case of paedophilia (a theme Utterson herself – played here by the versatile and excellent Lucy Ioannou – is also dealing with in her own way).

Information is spread through phones and tablets and the digital age promises all these fantastic opportunities, but underneath, cities still have dark corners and humans still suffer on their own. Projections of the characters’ filmed faces during the play also highlight how double faced we all can be between our media presence and our real lives. 

As always in this company, the acting and directing are fantastic, with the actors not letting one beat go by without meaning and movement being an important element for creating the atmosphere (primarily by Will Pinchin playing Henry Hyde).

However, as I am half American, I can’t write this article without mentioning the accents which still needed a lot of work. If this is 2020, I’m afraid it’s not how today sounds. I felt that the accents fit for a passed era but I think this production could have done with a dialect coach, bringing more colour to characters’ origins. In addition, I wonder whether the characters of the prostitute Imogen Poole and the scientist Hayley Lanyon had to be white. 

However, I understand that by placing this gothic and fantastical story into
today’s world, grey areas occur. What should the costumes look like? How does the gothic element fit into today? The overlap of precise contemporary news elements and passed devils and fables is an interesting and unexpected challenge for a viewer.

This show is deliberately slow at times, eeking out difficult conversations and reminding us of the danger that is looming. It asks how we can remain tolerant of all when some are extremely intolerant. It also made me cynically ask “oh really? You are going to take away their guns?”. However, one day perhaps there will be no more time for cynicism and action will be inevitable.

This is a difficult watch but a challenging piece for audiences who will hopefully realise new depths to human complexities in today’s world. 

Review by Sophie Tergeist

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Free seating | Price of Ticket: £16
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