Shamefully, I have never been to Greenwich Theatre before today, despite living within walking distance for about five years. A roomy bar and a 400-seater auditorium seemed echoey and empty for this performance of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, the audience barely filling more than a quarter of the theatre. My main concern was the disappointment a cast might feel to look out and see so many empty seats; but it’s the Tuesday after a Bank Holiday so I have hope that the rest of the week picks up for them.
I reproach myself as well for only knowing of Jekyll & Hyde through pop culture references: does anyone else remember The Pagemaster and Leonard Nimoy’s terrifying voice-acting? But writer and director Nick Lane’s creative adaptation proved a rich and engaging version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel. It had a feel of the story being told to you by friends, even if the account felt quite a long one. A tale of madness and repression, of love and violence, of friendship and of hatred; a small but dynamic cast of four took us back to 19th century London.
The namesake characters, Jekyll and Hyde (played by Blake Kubena) were the highlight of the performance. Mr Hyde, the id to Dr Jekyll’s ego, wasn’t portrayed with facial prosthetics or out-of-control wigs, but was skilfully presented through Kubena’s physicality and presence, which switched unsettlingly easily. The support from other members of the cast was crucial, though, particularly from Jekyll/Hyde’s love/lust interest Eleanor Lanyon (played by Paige Round) who gave a perfect balance of sensitivity and strength to the character, as well as some lovely musical interludes.
Claire Child’s lighting and Naomi Gibbs’ set combined in a charismatic way to dynamically transform the single, simple space into something new, leaving Lane’s direction to move our attention from one location to another. Tristan Parkes’ music was appropriately characterful and atmospheric, but in the Greenwich Theatre it sometimes overshadowed speaking voices.
Throughout, there were narrative-driving monologues that served in transporting us from one scene to another, but they were moments where engagement waned – perhaps because they were necessarily static. And there were times when I wondered if a scene might have been cut short to keep things moving a little. But these points aside, this is an enjoyable and convincing adaptation of the classic with an impressive physical performance from the lead actor.
Written by: Robert Louis Stevenson
Adapted by: Nick Lane
Directed by: Nick Lane
Produced by: Adrian McDougall for Blackeyed Theatre
Music by: Tristan Parkes
Movement/Intimacy by: Enric Ortuño
Set by: Naomi Gibbs
Lighting by: Claire Childs
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde plays at Greenwich Theatre until 23 April 2022, then continues touring the UK. For more information and tour dates, check here.