Following his preview interviewing the cast and crew at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Nathan Hardie reviews their latest production, Jekyll & Hyde.
Words: Nathan Hardie, @hardiewrites
Images: Craig Fuller, @craigfullerphotography
All is not what it seems in Victorian London. A priest (Oliver Hatfield) uncontrollably convulses whilst blurting out pop-up ads from dodgy websites during a sermon. Characters end conversations with “hashtag semicolon closed parenthesis,” throwing the occasional JK into the mix. And what’s that pinging sound down at the old Fox and Hounds?
These are just a few strange incidents that follow Hattie Jekyll (Hafsah Godsil) in writer Evan Placey and director Jaïrus Obayomi’s production Jekyll and Hyde. Since Hattie’s infamous scientist husband’s passing, she’s attempting to move on by branching out, trying new places like the theatre. Yet each action pulls her back to the reality of being a widowed woman.
Local busybodies Gertrude (Mira Edirisingha) and Martha (Tumi Olufawo) can’t believe she went out alone, questioning if her corset is the right shade of black for the dignified sadness Hattie should feel. Exacerbating their ire, she begins attending feminist rallies with Ida (Nadia Kamalli), not something Henry would have permitted.
Townsmen throw food at the gathering women, disapproving of their speech, which strengthens this notion of control by weaving it within a suffocating patriarchal environment.
A policeman questions if Hattie is lost, as late nights and dark corners give the wrong impression for a lady of her stature. Men in power, such as Judge Enfield (Joe Stanley), scheme in the background to accrue her newly received land. When she wants to pursue the late Dr Jekyll’s research, Dr Lanyon (Ché Tligui) and the other scientists at the institution ridicule her, dismissing what they deem as silly and dangerous whims.
Altogether, the story naturally builds the pressure to why Hattie risks her life through chemistry, trying to seize some agency. Being pushed to that limit is echoed by the stage becoming increasingly crowded, with many moving pieces that are impossible to focus on all at once.
Told through chapters with gaps in between, the play’s disjointed nature adds to the confusing, sometimes too disorienting presentation. Considering the shifting perspectives and reimagined narrative already being distinct, such drastic changes were initially jarring if ambitious nonetheless.
Yet, when the swarming cast unfurls at the climactic halfway mark, revealing the suspected culprit, everything clicks into place for the second part. From thematic chaos comes smoothly aligned narratives, dissecting the stage to flow between timelines effortlessly as events unfold.
Even when investigations unravel a more unambiguous picture, the production still has plenty of twists and turns in its volatile experiments. Jekyll and Hyde maintains intrigue and suspense for most of its two-hour runtime, giving much-needed life to a well-worn story.