Monday, 17 October 2022

REVIEW: Jekyll and Hyde at Reading Rep

Gary McNair’s adaptation of the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for the opening play in Reading Rep’s 10th anniversary season at its elegant new home appears to have returned to the source and tells the story through the eyes of a lawyer friend of Jekyll, Gabriel Utterson who seeks to unravel the mystery of a succession of horrific brutal attacks in the streets around his home. It’s a simple and bold device but succeeds because they have been fortunate to secure the wonderful Audrey Brisson to play Utterson and all the characters he meets. 

Brisson is an extraordinary actress with an expressive face, sparkling eyes and a physical presence that grabs your attention and does not let go. She was stunning in the musical Amelie at the Watermill Newbury and in the West End and has just completed an excellent run in Theatre Royal Bath’s brilliant production of Into the Woods but here she is alone on stage for the seventy-minute run time and prowls the raised platform engaging the audience with her looks, pauses and characterisations. Utterson gradually reveals the story but as he says, “we all already know” the truth about Jekyll’s experiments on himself, so the interest is generated through explaining the lawyer’s discoveries and the piecing together of the evidence through the characters he meets. It begins with Jekyll’s change of will in favour of Mr Hyde without explanation and the truth begins to dawn on Utterson when Sir Danvers Carew, MP is murdered.

She switches between the characters with a simple prop and a slight adjustment in her voice and tone. She becomes Dr Hastie Lanyon, Jekyll’s scientist friend with a pair of pince-nez glasses, Mr Poole, his butler, by clasping a bowler hat to her chest, the lawyer’s friend, Richard Enfield with a pair of braces and Jekyll himself is represented by the bowler. Director Michael Fentiman helps her paint pictures of the sights and sounds with her physical positioning and precise well-judged delivery of the words.

Her performance is enhanced by an exquisite lighting plot by Emily Irish from the white spots stage left and right and above the raised platform and a simple door outline on the rear wall to represent the entrance through which the infamous Mr Hyde has been seen to pass. The clouds of haze rising through the platform add to the atmospheric setting around Brisson in front of the black box stage. She only leaves the platform to walk around it as the streets around his home and to climb to the door. When Utterson breaks down the door to enter the lighting changes eerily and cleverly to reveal the person he meets inside.

The effect is to downplay the usual presentation of the physical transformation of Jekyll into Hyde and focus more on the duality of human nature, the struggle between good and the evil of base impulses and the dangers of drug addiction. There is also a curious reference to Stevenson’s birthplace dismissing someone as a “hideous local from Scotland”. But there is also a hint of Jodie Corner’s Prima Facie about how lawyers behave with Utterson saying “I am not the good guy”, caught between the loyalty to their client and acting to protect the wider public. We are left with a clear impression of the struggle within Jekyll and the impact it had on his small loyal group of acquaintances but most of all just overwhelmed by the sheer quality, and engaging charm of Audrey Brisson herself and feel privileged to see her perform in such an intimate venue as Reading Rep.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★★

Price of Ticket: Row C | Price of Ticket: £19.50
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