Jekyll and Hyde – Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Adapted by Hannah Lavery

Directed by Amy Liptrott

Rating: 4 out of 5.

On the duality of human nature, Robert Louis Stevenson’s peak gothic novella Jekyll and Hyde has been twisted and pulled and adapted and re-adapted countless times over. Flung into the reaches of Sci-Fi and gender-bent with varying consequences, but there’s always been one aspect underexplored. Until now. There’s a third dimension to the story – a group often shadowed more so than any grotesque inhibitions of duality or masculine violence. The women on the peripheries of the story – always present, always knowing, always forgotten.

True gothic and classical horror speaks to contemporary times, where the lessons we’ve heeded for decades articulates to new audiences in modern ways. The hypocrisy and facades of Jekyll and Hyde are as relevant as possible for audiences, constantly remaking to themselves of how to make a ‘good life’, or at least what to plaster across social media to forge the illusion of a good life. Hannah Lavery’s writing capitalises on the basis which existed all those years ago but manipulates Stevenson’s initial ideas into a fuller, more expressive form.

As it comes to no surprise, the conceptual ‘good men’ presentation comes at the hands of Dr Jekyll fighting with how to present himself to other men – and yet, little to nothing of concern is mentioned of the women both he and Hyde encounter. The cook, the boarder, the servant and the woman who witnesses the very murder the novella centres.

For centuries women have endured the tiredness of brandishing multiple masks, to fend off suitors, for work, for their safety and often ones imposed upon them. Alicia McKenzie undertakes an immense level of performance, taking on the principal role of this monologue – answering herself in dialogue sequences, extending the duality of the performance to new heights. The duality extends to the staging itself – one half a humble table and chair, some tea and a pot – the other, a more lavish chair complete with the amber-good stuff in a delicate crystal decanter.

Amy Liptrott’s direction takes a steady-handed approach, and in pursuing the dynamics of focusing on the women within Stevenson’s story, the otherworldly nature of the tale seems distant, ripples emerge in audio snippets, but the gothic aspect is distinctly lacking. And perhaps the fear manifests not from the monstrous, but the humanity of it all, that Hyde isn’t a being born of potions or evil, but a man lacking a conscience.

But here, the cracks emerge within Lavery’s conceptual masking – the distinctiveness between characters falters. There are fleeting moments where audiences need to stop and wonder which character is specifically on-stage at present, and how they tie into the narrative. McKenzie strives to impart a sense of identity, but in adaptation, to offer such a range of different women a voice, elements are sacrificed to maintain the pacing of this one-woman production.

Jekyll and Hyde takes a contemporary approach, and At the gnarled and twisted heart, this re-telling of Jekyll and Hyde remains faithful to the original – the same setting, the same plot, the same characters, but shifts the direction of view to the skirted corners. Perhaps the deranged nature of the original text is missing from Lavery’s production, but for what it may lack, it makes up for in droves of a distinctive new light to draw the monstrous classic into modern light. 

Jekyll and Hyde runs at The Pitlochry Festival Theatre from August 18th to September 8th on select dates. Tickets and further information can be found here.

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