Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by David Edgar
presented by the Guildbury Theatre Company at the Electric Theatre, Guildford, 27th - 29th November 2014.
This production, which I was asked to review for the Surrey Advertiser on 29th November 2014, was a very different theatrical experience from the last play I reviewed here ("Grounded"). This was a thoroughly traditional production by a good amateur company of David Edgar's adaptation of the famous story published in 1886 by Robert Louis Stevenson. It's the latest in a series of elaborations on the theme of dualism that was begun in 1888 by Victor Mansfield, an American playwright. Mansfield was the first to expand the misdeeds of Mr Hyde to include sexual abuse, and to use the same actor for both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. His play also initiated the tradition of affecting the transformation between the dual personalities in front of horrified Victorian audiences, using make up and lighting and altering the structure of the actor’s face.
David Edgar’s adaptation references the hypocrisy of the Victorian age, the plight of “fallen” women, the Victorian “new woman” and of course Freudian theory. It’s a text densely packed with ideas and as in Maxwell's play the same actor plays both of the lead personae. He has also introduced an additional sub-plot.
Producing this play in a traditional proscenium theatre presents an enormous challenge to an amateur company on a provincial stage. Guildbury rose creditably to the challenge but they were hampered by the logistics of providing a constantly changing succession of scenes (two different city streets, a railway station and four different interiors) without a revolving stage. Some furniture and props were brought onstage for only two or three minutes before being manually removed or replaced, disrupting the narrative flow and slowing the pace of the play to a crawl as the scene-changes became increasingly intrusive.
Nevertheless, the company’s interpretation of Edgar’s characters was excellent. Jonathan Arundel as Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde accomplished the change from mild-mannered, caring scientist through to distraught, guilty but self-indulgent antisocial brute with admirable subtlety, particularly in the later stages of his impending permanent transformation into Hyde. He followed tradition using a simian swagger, and the suggestion of claw-like hands. We could have wished for some imaginative lighting to help give him an evil aura which could be reversed as he returned to Dr Jekyll’s persona. His voice as Hyde became strongly Glaswegian, perhaps in reference to Stevenson’s Scottish origins.
Georgie Wilkins as Annie, the servant girl who’s abused by Hyde and in this play tries to save Dr Jekyll from himself, deserves a special mention for her spirited and humorous interpretation of the character. Derek Watts as Utterson, Barbara Tresidder as Mrs Poole, Heather Meldrum and the rest of the cast were excellent in support.
This was a demanding play produced by an ambitious and talented company.