Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
April 30 to May 29th
When I first heard that Vertigo Theatre was putting on a production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, my initial reaction was – Yawn…..another remake of an old monster story. Why bother?
I mean who doesn’t know the tale of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde inside and out? Like its contemporaries, Frankenstein and Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde has bored its way into our brains through an overwhelming number of film, stage and television adaptations. And of course there’s the spoofs – two of the best being Looney Tunes’ “Hyde and Hare” starring Bugs Bunny and Ed Grimley’s Dr. Jekyll in the skit “The Nutty Lab Assistant” on SCTV. Regardless how we’ve watched it and in what genre, we’ve all been there, done that and can agree it’s been done to death.
Then there’s the moral question of the story itself. What is good? What is evil? Can the lines be blurred between the two? Not exactly a unique plot line. It was a classic story arc long before Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the original novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and it remains an extremely popular script theme. So popular that we’ve taken the idea out of the theatre and into real life and now the description of a Jekyll and Hyde dilemma has become part of our cultural lexicon.
So, back to my original question – with a story so familiar that we’ve not only seen it before, but use its title as part of everyday language, why bother? In the case of Vertigo Theatre’s production, the answer is to see a modern, well-acted and thoroughly enjoyable performance that leaves the clichéd at the door.
The play opens with Mr. Hyde rushing to get home and in his haste bumping into a young girl. In his anger, he takes the jostle one step further and violently knocks the girl to the ground as payback for getting in his way. Two gentlemen witness the act and demand that Hyde make reparations. When he offers to cut the girl a cheque, the men demand that he prove his money is secure. Hyde produces a letter guaranteeing his accounts by a certain Dr. Henry Jekyll. The men, who know Jekyll, are surprised that the doctor, a well-known and respected medical professional would associate with the likes of such an obvious brute. Later they visit Jekyll’s home to inquire about the letter and he admits to knowing Hyde, but asserts that they are certainly not friends. Instead, he vaguely explains that he owes Hyde a favour and that the letter is his repayment. The men warn Jekyll of Hyde’s errant and violent behaviour and Jekyll assures them that his dealings with Hyde are coming to an end.
Thus begins the “mysterious” tie between the two men, but, knowing the story as we do, we are already aware that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same. Instead, the audience finds the drama in watching the struggle between the two personality sides as they battle to take full possession of their host and in the frustration of the other characters as they attempt to track down Hyde for his later crime.
In describing the play as modern, I don’t mean to suggest that the characters dress in modern clothing or use modern language. Rather it’s the sparse stage, lack of props, brevity of dialogue and restrained costuming that gives the play a contemporary feel. I’ve seen many productions try to go the minimalist route and I have found that the only time it works effectively is when the acting is robust enough to fill the stage on its own. And I’m happy to say that in this case it certainly did. Rylan Wilkie as Dr Henry Jekyll does a terrific job playing the moral upstanding doctor in public, and the increasingly tortured scientist trying to run from his demon side in private. Kevin Rothery is irritatingly good as a pompous and bigoted surgeon at Jekyll’s college who runs afoul with both sides of the Jekyll/Hyde personality. Myla Southward does a fine job as Elizabeth Jelkes, the love interest of the Hyde character; yes…the beast has a lover, even if she is given very little by way of dialogue to explain why she has fallen for such a man.
But it is Haysam Kadri’s Hyde that is the most interesting. Far from the clichéd hunched monstrous looking creature we are used to, Kadri’s Hyde is a dashing figure in a cape, walking stick and top hat. He performs evil acts such as slitting the throat of a prostitute and disembowelling her with no compunction. Yet is able to fall in love, albeit in a somewhat dictatorial and verbally abusive manner, with Elizabeth. Again here the dialogue doesn’t give much room for explanation as to why he fancies her or why he doesn’t behave with her the way he does with others, but what little we do get is nicely done.
Prior to seeing the play I was told that one of the compelling things about the production was that the actors play many roles (nothing new in that if you ask me) and that they all take a turn at playing Hyde….now that intrigued me. Until I saw it in action. Several times, the actors dressed as Hyde and appeared as either inner voices speaking to Jekyll or even Hyde himself, and this was beautifully done and spookily effective. But then every so often one of the “inner voices” would appear as Hyde for real and for no apparent reason. It happened too infrequently for us to become accustomed to it and have it not feel staged. Frankly Kadri’s Hyde was the best of the bunch and I was relieved when he took over the role again for himself. Happily these switches didn’t occur that often and turned out to be minor annoyances rather than deal breakers.
This isn’t a play that is going to change your life. And it isn’t even going to give you any new thoughts to chew on in the ongoing question of good and evil and how much of each are in all of us. But it is a play that will serve up an entertaining adaptation of an old classic and prove to Calgary audiences what good ensemble acting is all about.
For the guys – Violence, testosterone and the struggle between being the nice guy or the brute inside. Except this time it’s not about you and you don’t have to apologize for anything! SEE IT
For the gals – The violence is a little brutal and if you have a bad boy complex this may not help. But the story is classic and you’ll like the acting. SEE IT
For the sometimes audience – Totally entertaining. Not a boring minute in the production. SEE IT
For the theatre junkies – You’ve seen the staging tricks before, but they are done well. And it’s always satisfying to see good acting from the entire cast. SEE IT