Jekyll and Hyde
Performed in the Unicorn Theatre 18 - 19 March 2011
Devised by the company
We are hunted as we enter the auditorium by an ominous overhead helicopter, tracing shafts of bright light in spirals across a stage marked with geometrically-regular patterns. Threatening, overpowering and outside of our comprehension. This mirrors the internal unresolved conflict inside the eponymous hero. He is not Robert Louis Stevenson's Victorian Doctor, but a contemporary relative, working on frontier research into Alzheimer's - the last hidden secret of human consciousness: every older person's nightmare. Like his forefather, he is tempted to try the experimental drug on himself. Like his forefather he is seduced by awakening that nether snakepit that Freud called the id, deep beneath his consciousness.
Visually the effects throughout this devised piece are stunning - cinematic in scope eclipsing many far-better resourced theatres than the humble Unicorn in Abingdon. Indeed the stagecraft technology demands responses from the players that require massively more rehearsal than most amateurs can accumulate. Despite these prodigious demands, the performances of the leading actors (Tristan Kear and Lee Woodward) were at times quite brilliant. It is unsurprising that the first night would throw up inconsistencies of pace and flow, but a joy to see the competence that was achieved.
The real operation of this sinister play is INSIDE the head (s) of the two actors playing Jekyll and Hyde. When this is revealed, the piece is very creepy and genuinely frightening. Paradoxically, explicit acts of spontaneous violence work less effectively. When we see a baby strangled and a mother brutally murdered or a housekeeper bludgeoned to death and beyond - just for fun, it is strangely less frightening than seeing the two parts of one man's mind struggling in mirror and echolalia to comprehend itself. We recognise the stuff of nightmares, the horror of facing one's own inner nastiness, the self-serving, self-seeking heart of darkness that we rarely allow ourselves to glimpse. Perhaps because we know precisely how hard this genie can be to get back into the bottle, we deny our occasional instinct even to face it. Those moments of the play were the most satisfying theatrical achievements.
But the genius of creating the claustrophobic feel of a tube ride (alongside some dubious characters!); the spinning number barrels that marked changes of location and time; the visual fast-forward of metamorphic mutation have to be the memorable achievements of the play.
There are a few problematic issues still to address: how do you make the finale unexpected? How do you get pace and build tension at the same time? How do you find the balance between stagecraft and acting to enable the narrative to emerge naturally?
The group achieved more than enough successful dramatic effects to satisfy most who were fortunate to see this unusual and spectacular version of the Jekyll story.