“A fleet and surprising adaptation of a famous story”
It is strange indeed when Miriam Jekyll puts Hyde onto her shoulders and carries her off stage. You might think that light work is being made of RLS’s ‘classic’ shocker of morbid psychology. You’d be wrong though. Stevenson’s story is here, it’s just been gifted with some nimble ideas and relocated to Edinburgh. Hair restoration and topiary outrages in the New Town are up there together with the double consciousness.
Writer Morna Pearson gives Dr Jekyll a family: Jane, his wife, who finds anaesthesia from marriage in drink; William, his son, a friendly soul who is never going to get to Uni’; and Miriam, his daughter, who should be in the Chemistry labs but who has become Hugo’s darling Intended. It is Miriam who helps herself to her father’s green potion and who finds Hyde (a dead ringer for The Woman in Black) at the bottom of the glass. And it is together, through the toun, that the two young women enact ‘the thorough and primitive duality of man’. It is not the case, in this version, that when Hyde appears Jekyll disappears. No, theirs is a prime alliance.
The pathological strain is replaced by social horrors: Jekyll has money problems and his creditor, Dr Black, sexually assaults Miriam. Hyde fights back. Police enquiries get nowhere as the good folk cannot see that the evil doers are just like them – sometimes. To frame the action Director Caitlin Skinner has the twenty cast members divide into pairs and to eyeball each other accusingly and then “Shush!” us into a conspiracy of silence.
The thematic assists from composer Greg Sinclair and the musicians of Drake Music work extremely well. The opening soundscape of bells and chimes and hooves quickly gives way to single notes and jagged chords. Miriam suffers the effects of the concoction as pins and needles stick in our ears. Solo voices intone in uncanny ways and wind about the silhouetted archways, stairs and closes of the city.
The open stage and precise blocking allows the performers to distinguish themselves. Stephen Tait as Dr Jekyll is the focused professional with secrets to concentrate on. He loves his daughter but is the late Victorian father with some lunatic ideas about the brain. Emma McCaffrey’s Miriam responds with due affection but has her own abiding demon to wrestle with, both in the parlour and on the roof. Hyde (Nicola Tuxworth) does not speak but is a veiled and forbidding presence whose outstretched hand you would not want to hold. For me, though, it is the lugubrious Poole (John Edgar), butler to Jekyll’s household, whose words you hang onto. After all, it is Poole who reveals that he has heard Miriam talking to her ‘friend’.
So, a fleet and surprising adaptation of a famous story that really belongs to Edinburgh and which Lung Ha Theatre make their own.
Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 21 March)
Visit the Traverse archive.