Reviewers have fastened onto the lack of horror in David Edgar's adaptation as if ipso facto it damned the enterprise. It was plainly never Edgar's intention to purvey blood and thunder. This is a literary project – during scene-changes Stevenson's text is projected white-on-black onto the revolving sets. The fabric of allusions and images is dense and intellectually ravishing: Faust, Freud, superficial Victorian notions of propriety among many others – and, naturally, image itself. Hyde usually appears through a (sliding) mirror, and after one unscheduled metamorphosis in a railway compartment (Paul Kieve's illusions not quite up to his recent Invisible Man standard), asks his startled fellow-traveller to "describe me".
Roger Allam's Jekyll is a paradigm of period repression, against which Simon Russell Beale's Hyde lurks sinisterly but not disturbingly. Their daring co-presence during most transformations is dissipated in dialogues of mutual psychoanalysis, becoming in the final phase a staged novel-of-ideas. Peter Wood's direction catches the appropriate social atmosphere, but only insofar as Edgar's script evokes it. On its own terms this is a mightily impressive version – but those terms are better suited to television than theatre.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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