Transforming a classic of Victorian gothic horror

Jekyll and Hyde – Flipping the Bird & Red Shift @ Maltings Art Centre, 25 July 2013 (and at the Assembly Roxy Downstairs from 31 July to 25 August 2013)

The Edinburgh preview trail winds its way onto St Albans and possibly the first time visiting a town that so defiantly tries to hide its arts centre away from anyone with the slightest interest in culture (and for anyone going you can find it in the Mall, located on the 2nd floor between the library and the car park). Still this is not the time for London snobbery even if the venue is rather unbecoming of one of the grandest of Victorian gothic horrors.

On the menu was Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde; an endlessly adaptable work and if the creation doesn’t quite sit in popular consciousness as easily as his natural bed-fellows, Dracula and Frankenstein, then the suggestion is that it is because in Jekyll/Hyde Stevenson created a horror that lives as much in our own mind as in our external experiences.

Jekyll & Hyde might be prefigured by James Hogg’s too oft-forgotten, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, but Stevenson’s work remains the more relevant because it strips out much of the religion and leaves behind something that could have come straight out of a Freudian handbook. The concept continues to have a huge influence in one of the most lasting forms of pulp fiction; the comic book. Hulk and Two-Face are two characters centred around the Jekyll/Hyde idea but the idea of a character leading a duel-existence is a fundamental to the mythos of the comic book universe.

jekyll-and-hyde

The question for any company is how you add something fresh to the equation; Flipping the Bird and Red Shift have approached the task by drafting in Jonathan Holloway to adapt it for the stage and have placed gender identity centre stage. It is a neat way to breathe life into a well-known story, meaning that fun can be had with Victorian gender politics and more importantly allowing a relationship to develop between Utterson and Jekyll that transforms the traditional end of the story.

The production is bolstered by the addition of an onstage music accompaniment from the narrator and the potential buyer of the story. If the style is overly reminiscent of The Tiger Lillies accompaniment to the hugely influential ‘junk opera’ Shockheaded Peter, the originality of the music and the coherence it has with the narrative means that it refuses to disappoint and is an effective way to work through scene transitions.

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