Two men stare from a balcony at eye height with myself in the Dress Circle at King’s Theatre. They speak fluttery Victorian prose against a shadowy backdrop of street lights and yellow window panes. It’s a strange opening because there’s no fanfare – the lights go down and it starts. From the off it’s apparent it’s a wordy play where your concentration is going to be required. I’m not sure what I expected, maybe something akin to a pantomime, with a rowdy Phil Daniels blurting out Parklife to get cheap laughs.
Thankfully it is none of those things. It is, at its core, a heavy exploration of duality which I recognise is possibly not something that all of the audience were expecting having had the marketing pitched at a “Phil Daniels from EastEnders” level. It’s definitely not for those with a short attention span – we dig in deep to the setting and slowly let the story unfold.
One of David Edgar’s changes is to introduce two female characters Katherine, Dr Jekyll’s sister and Annie, a maid who works for Katherine before running away from an abusive father and moving in with Dr Jekyll. I’ve noticed the usual outpour of male-critic dismay at this addition of women into the play – the theatre world equivalent of lamenting that Dr Who is now a woman I suppose. Having not read the book for some time, it’s noticeable that Edgar has certainly rewritten the play to focus more on the human condition. Several key sequences take place in Dr Jekyll’s home as he and his two friends verbally spar with each other’s theories.
What most of us are here for are the transformation of course and those expecting something monstrous are likely to be a little underwhelmed. Daniel’s opts to separate the two characters by playing Dr Jekyll with an Edinburgh-tinged accent and his Mr Hyde as a snarling, sarcastic Glaswegian. The general consensus of those I’ve spoken to have all been impressed that both accents sounded genuine. Although admittedly, none of them are from Glasgow.
Although the audience remain hushed throughout, the present day creeps in through the foolish person who leaves their mobile telephone on. Throughout a particular tense sequence as Annie listened outside Dr Jekyll’s laboratory door we were transported to the future as a Samsung Galaxy ringtone rang out. We all turned to glower in the direction of the offending noise while its owner stared blankly ahead pretending it wasn’t their phone. The haunting tune continued for a good thirty seconds before stopping slightly spoiling the on stage happenings. In my darker thoughts I kind of hoped Mr Hyde would find them in the interval and hammer out some justice.
Without any other distractions in the second half I found myself scrunched into my seat, forehead wrinkled, in utter silence, as I simply absorbed the performance till the climactic conclusion. I have since been surprised to find the play labelled “dull” elsewhere as personally I found it incredibly fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable. The violence is sparser too, less interested with blood and gore, instead gleefully startling the stillness with the sickening crunch of bones and necks breaking. It was all rather splendid.
For more on the programme in the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, click here.