Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic story captured the late 19th-century’s fascination with all things scientific. Suddenly it seemed like man could be more powerful than God. In this adaptation by Noah Smith, the duality of man is freed from the restraints of nature with murderous consequences.
Structured in two parts, the first half follows Dr Jekyll (Dimitri Armatas) as he experiments with a formula designed to free a man from proprietary and allow him to realise his underlying desires, while the second half deals with the aftermath and Mr Utterson’s (Jonathon Burt) investigation of his friends’ deaths and Dr Jekyll’s odd behaviour. In addition, this adaptation adds external narrators in the maid (Nicole Harwood) and the butler (Robert Snars) who dip in and out of the action as background characters and the incarnation of the production’s dual themes, acting as conscience, instinct, doubt, and desire to advise Dr Jekyll and Mr Utterson.
The production design was exceptional with consistent use of gothic and horror elements that emphasise the script’s spooky implications. Set design from director Paul Sztelma was a cobwebbed laboratory regularly rearranged by the maid and butler into various studies and even a sex worker’s lodgings. Sean Churchward’s lighting design was particularly noteworthy in his use of the set’s windows to create dynamic beams and shadows in otherwise empty space. Sound design and composition from Chris Harriott injected jumps and starts with cracks of lightning and electrical buzzes that tear the seams of reality for the unsuspecting characters. Additionally, costume design from Annette van Roden was a nice inventive touch with all characters dressed in gothic period and a heavy coating of dust, hinting at the story’s age but also indicating more sinisterly the image of this characters as trapped in time.
Armatas plays Jekyll and Hyde with a compelling conviction, alternating his physicality and characterisation both subtly and in more overt ways as his miracle serum begins to play tricks. Faith Jessel as Cybel, Mr Hyde’s partner in crime, is a worthy opposite with her comfortable conniving spirit revealing real strength and wit under pressure. Stand-out performances came from Harwood and Snars as the vampiric narrators facilitating the tale and forming the link between the modern audience and Victorian London. Snars was delightfully versatile as a series of butlers, smarmy body guard Sam, and a sharp, sarcastic narrator. Harwood added charm and a humorous self-awareness as an investigating officer and a regularly bad influence. The two worked very well to construct the gothic meta-narrative around Dr Jekyll’s experiments with nature.
Like so many good classic sci-fi stories, the entertainment of the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde lies in the “what if”, the sliver gap between science and nature, man and God. This rendition by the Castle Hill Players leans into the wicked enjoyment of evil and chaos and unpredictability for an all-around gothic good time.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde is running at the Pavilion Theatre from January 31st – February 22nd