THEATRE REVIEW: Jekyll and Hyde, in a radical reimagining by Evan Placey – National Youth Theatre Rep Ambassadors Theatre Company  


van Placey’s excellent play operates at lots of levels and in different worlds. It’s a topical, intelligent, thoughtful, feminist take on Robert Lewis Stevenson’s novella rather than a dramatisation of it. And it’s rollicking good theatre – frank, uncompromising, fresh and often quite confrontational.

In Victorian England, Dr Jekyll’s widow Harriet is dabbling in his lab which results in her developing an alter ego as a violent, forthright prostitute who isn’t going to be exploited by anyone – cue for some terrific nightclub scenes, some horrifying violence and another group of middle class women who are campaigning suffragette-style for women’s rights relating, for instance, to the Contagious (ie sexually transmitted) Diseases Act. In a completely different realm a twenty first century girl is arrested for blogging a story (about Harriet Jekyll) and using it to incite rebellion and public violence against patriarchal decisions relating, for example, to abortion. Then there’s a carefully woven in little sub plot about a senior 19th century judge and a rent boy. And the whole thing, as the prologue makes clear, is at yet another level, an exploration into the power of narrative. It isn’t straightforward but by golly, there’s plenty here to think about.

The National Youth Theatre has, as usual, enrolled a highly talented bunch to form its sixteen-strong Rep Company. Jenny Walser excels as Florence, the 21st century blogger: naturalistic, convincing and utterly compelling especially in her long police cell interrogation in the second half. In those same scenes Joanna McGibbon does well as a decent police officer and there’s nice work from Douglas Wood as DC Lawrence as he batters away at Walser’s stunningly bright character. Elizabeth McCafferty makes a fine job of the shift from feisty but fairly conventional Harriet and the blood bespattered, wild Flossie Hyde, who hovers during the 21st century interludes.

This Jekyll and Hyde is, however primarily an ensemble piece. There’s a terrific range of accents, for example, all carefully used to demark character including lots of tiny, very effective cameos. If I have a caveat it’s that the play is a tad too complicated and you might need to see/read it several times to pick it all up. But that’s a very minor point about a pretty glittering production.

Review by Mark Glover