It’s probably safe to assume we all know the story of Jekyll and Hyde. Of course, with such well known source material, any new adaptation surely needs to tell the tale in a different and unique way. Which is a lot easier said than done.
MaggieMarie Productions attempt just that for their debut production. Their approach is to take the original’s protagonists and shake the story up with humour rather than horror. In fact, it is the humour that shines through above all else. Alongside Jekyll/Hyde are his friends Utterson and Lanyon, although their roles have been greatly redesigned: Lanyon becomes another solicitor (as well as Utterson) who also investigates the murders that have occurred, to which her friend Jekyll seems to be closely associated. Making up the quartet of characters is Rebecca, the maid who witnesses one of the murders, but is also now Jekyll’s Maid in place of the original butler.
Three quarters of the cast are East 15 graduates, a place that seems to be producing a fair share of young actors we’re seeing all around London nowadays. Perhaps the real standout is Bethany Monk-Lane. Her portrayal as Lanyon, solicitor and friend of Dr Jekyll, is a delight. She delivers her lines with a gentle mix of humour and intrigue, whilst her asides to the audience work well in eliciting laughter and never feel too contrived or out of place. Elsewhere, Faye Ziegler’s Rebecca adds further fun to the proceedings, her rudeness and cattiness towards Lanyon delivered with style, while Robert Veng’s Utterson has a rather airy and assured presence. Michael Gillett has the difficult task of being both Jekyll and Hyde, and perhaps tries a little too hard for the former; his accent and delivery feels rather forced and fake. However, he more than makes up for this with Hyde, especially in his physicality. His limbs contort marvellously, helped by the clever directing decision to perform most of this role with his back to the audience, meaning we never see his face, but rather are given the impression of deformities.
The black box style of OSO Arts Centre helps with the atmosphere required for any good gothic story, plunging us into darkness at just the right moments. Patrick Richards’ lighting is used sparingly but is marvellously effective, with red filters coming into play when Hyde appears. Karl Chaundy’s set is similarly minimal but effective, with three seats and a table ably moved around to fit requirements, giving a sense of a change of location without the need for any elaborate set.
There is nothing wrong with taking absolute liberties with classic stories, after all, it would be just a little boring to see them delivered the same way every time. But it also requires something to elevate the adaptation; to create something new and absorbing. Whilst this version makes for a pleasant and amusing evening, there is not that feeling that something special has been achieved, no twist on the original that makes you see things in a whole new light. What there is is an attempt to suggest that we all have some duplicity in us, when it is revealed that Rebecca, like Jekyll, has been leading a double life. But it is not a concept that is totally realised or played out. Perhaps taking this one thought back to the drawing board and remoulding it more fully within the whole play would help for future developments.
An evening at OSO is always a delight. It is a great venue, serving Barnes and giving new creatives wonderful opportunities. MaggieMarie Productions have tried something new and hopefully this is just the first step in achieving their ambitions.
Written by: Robert Louis Stevenson
Adapted and directed by: Maggiemarie Casto
Produced by: Julia Nielsen for MaggieMarie Productions
Design by: Karl Chaundy
Lighting by: Patrick RIchards
Jekyll and Hyde plays at OSO Arts Centre until 25 March. Further information and bookings can be found here.