Writer: Morna Pearson
Director: Caitlin Skinner
Reviewer: Gareth Davies
Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Gothic novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde presented the world with a definitive, genre-defining formula for a wealth of stories packed with horrors, both psychological and physical. And, nearly one-hundred and thirty years after it was written, it remains an invaluable touchstone of inspiration for writers and artists exploring aspects of the issues that Stevenson was exploring.
Few will be unfamiliar with the heart of Stevenson’s original story – the ‘split’ characterisation of one personality with both light and dark aspects – and countless adaptations for film, TV and literature have given the very names ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ an iconic cultural status. So it is a brave person who seeks to embody a truly new story around Stevenson’s literary bones.
Happily, Lung Ha Theatre Company have paired with Morna Pearson, a writer who is not only brave, but also ambitious and insightful, and in possession of a witty, heartfelt and original creative voice. Together with a team of musicians and an ensemble cast bursting with spirit and passion, Lung Ha present a revitalised and genuinely enthralling tale.
Using the original material as a loose inspiration, Pearson not only relocates the action from Victorian London back to Stevenson’s hometown of Edinburgh, but she also switches the dramatic focus from Dr Jekyll to his daughter Miriam, played with real gusto and passion by Emma McCaffrey. Besting her brother William – a fine comic turn from Mark Howie – in every way, Miriam is also trapped by the conventions of the period, where women are considered a “simple, straightforward group of creatures”, and as such she faces being condemned to marriage (and motherhood) with idiotic neighbour Hugo (Kenny Ainslie).
Drawn to her father’s chemical laboratory, Miriam unleashes an inner aspect of her character previously hidden (or ‘Hyde-den’, if you will…) who encourages her to push against the restraints of social norms, with funereal results…
Against Becky Minto’s open stage-scape of silhouettes, evoking the wynds and closes of Edinburgh’s Old Town, the large cast bring a whole city community vividly to life, complete with drunks, gamblers, newspaper vendors, policemen, maids and gentlemen. Shifting easily from darkly comic interludes to dramatic choreographed sequences, the Lung Ha company show the scale of their versatility and theatrical dynamism as they play out Pearson’s creative and intriguing story to its dramatic climax.
Wry, intelligent and deceptively sophisticated in exploring afresh Stevenson’s notions of dual character, Lung Ha offer a classy and invigorating production, demonstrating their mastery in presenting a show of both light and darkness.
Reviewed on 20 March 2015 touring from 25 March 2015