Jekyll and Hyde

Wed 31st July – Sun 25th August 2013

reviews

Lise McNally

at 03:38 on 19th Aug 2013

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Flipping the Bird’s new adaptation of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ immerses its audience in the icy atmosphere of a dark Victorian underworld: as white faces peer out of the gloom and thin fingers pluck nervously at cello strings, a chilling atmosphere settles as quickly and completely as a London fog. The result is an entertaining offering of gothic melodrama where the plot is twisted and the characters more so. But as the production wanders through these labyrinthine turns, the concept of the adaptation also gets a little lost.

Jonathan Holloway’s play is certainly an intriguing attempt to explore gender and taboo. Recasting Dr. Jekyll as a Victorian female allows the production to layer a heightened urgency to the need to become your own alter-ego. However, the innovation is less effectively deployed than it might have been. Jekyll is deliberately, almost frantically, seductive from her first appearance, a trait which is oddly similar to the violently sexual Hyde. Her quickly-explicit sexual register and almost immediate nudity felt as if the show was gratuitously reaching for the shock-factor without taking the time to establish its impact. Perhaps with a longer running time, Jekyll’s justifiable desire for sexual control and gender identity would feel more like the obsession of a brilliant scientist, and less like the whim of a Victorian hysteric.

That said, the experience of the production is atmospheric and highly enjoyable. A truly impressive cast carry the play through slightly timid gags towards something which has a darkly glamorous power. Elliott Rennie and Joel Phillimore display a remarkable range of vocal and acting talent as they narrate the story which unfurls before their horrified eyes. Beautifully mournful chanting gives way to a cacophony of lunatic howls, working brilliantly with Laurence Osborn’s affecting score. Leo Marcus Wan likewise gives a truly impressive performance as Enfield, lending the character a nuanced physicality which works well against the heightened passions of the piece. Hyperactively bulging eyes and cocked wrists subtly suggest a loosening grip on self-control, as Enfield’s confident knowledge of the vice-filled alleys in which he prowls teeters uneasily on the brink of dependence.

The performance is an aesthetic delight - gorgeous and grotesque at once. Joanna Scotcher’s wonderful set allows the small space to offer multiple possibility rather than restriction. Clever directorial flourishes by Jessica Edwards also contribute to the oddly mesmerising quality of the piece. It is therefore reasonably easy to forgive the inconsistencies in vision and tone of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. Perhaps with this production you aren’t quite sure what you are looking at, but it is oddly difficult to avert your gaze.

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Marnie Langeroodi

at 15:52 on 19th Aug 2013

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Jonathan Holloway and Flipping the Bird present a dark, feminist, sexual, dirty adaptation of this classic Victorian novel.

The framing duo – St.John and Worsfield (Elliott Rennie and Joel Phillimore) – first engage the audience in a fraught conversation with measured speech and deliberate hesitation, treading a thin line between frustration and ‘civilised’ propriety. Other characters will demolish any sense of modesty before the play is through.

The style is darkly elegant, poised and perhaps even over-perfected. Leo Marcus Wan’s performance is flawless as the flamboyant Larry. His lengthy conversation with Harry (Michael Edwards) speaks on the significant themes of the book. Their delight and horror of the macabre reflects the Victorian era’s fascination in the exotic, and the anxiety between the extremes that are Jekyll and Hyde.

Rennie and Phillimore’s musical accompaniment gains in ferocity throughout as the characters delve further into their drug-fuelled explorations of an underworld brought to them through ‘dark magazines’. The live music was a great success of the play, where enchanting harmonies provide an almost absurd mood and made for effective scene transitions. The lighting, music and staging came together brilliantly in these moments.

The use of metatheatre was heavy-handed. St.John and Worsfield overstep their choric function. They discuss their music, the plot and question the actions of their fellow characters. Holloway’s self-awareness is overt and clumsily added in too many places – he goes as far as to tell his audience what they are looking for and even mentions tickets and admission.

More uncomfortable, albeit intentionally so, was the female Jekyll’s sexualisation. Holloway’s version of is a commendable revision; Jekyll’s anxiety becomes not only a matter of civil and savage, good and evil, but also female and male. Jekyll (played by Cristina Catalina) is the epitome of sensuality and physicality. The use of language is sexually indulgent and undoubtedly crude. Catalina as Jekyll, Holloway's direction and the play as a whole certainly succeeded in making me feel extremely uncomfortable.

Catalina was certainly outstanding. Her bare-faced and shameless performance should be celebrated. She had the difficult task of exposing a male personality trapped in a female body, and escaped from Jekyll into Hyde and back convincingly. However, this was by no means a one-woman show; all actors interacted with great chemistry and showed self-mastery.

Overall, the play was cohesive, gradually building in violence and desperation until Worsfield is sickened by what he has seen. I suspect the audience were too.

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