There have been numerous versions of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde over the years and Pitlochry Festival Theatre is the latest company to rethink this classic tale of science and madness.
Hannah Lavery’s adaptation spins the story right around to bring the peripheral female characters front and centre offering their versions of the chaos unleashed when Dr Jekyll goes in search of his darker second nature. Just to make it even more challenging, Lavery has written it as a monologue to be performed by Pitlochry regular Alicia McKenzie.
Our Features Editor Paul Clarke spoke to Alicia about taking on a classic text in a new way and getting ready to step onto the stage on her own.
Before you took the job were you familiar with this classic tale of what happens when you meddle with the darker side of science?
It’s very strange as it is one of those stories that I definitely thought I knew what this is about, but then I was actually what is it about? What happens? I realised that I’d never read it or seen a version of it. It’s one of those stories that you know, but do you really know it?
Did you go back to the source material?
I read the novel and the script, so the first thing that is different is this version is told from the women’s point of view. The women are seriously lacking in the novel, which I don’t know I’d have noticed if it hadn’t been for working on the script at the same time. There is the odd reference to a woman, or a girl, but they are never named, and they are very secondary characters.
So, in this version the women who were on the fringes are suddenly centre stage offering their unheard version of the chaos and madness that breaks out around them.
It does get you thinking who were the women in this world, what are they doing, what are their lives like, what did they see and what’s their version of events? Hannah’s written this amazing version that tells the story through their eyes. Yes, they are observers, but there’s things that happen to the women in the book, so there’s a chance to tell it from their point of view. What would they say about this man who was a devil, and how that came about?
Robert Louis Stevenson’s books are much loved, so are you worried about upsetting the traditionalists who might be more comfortable with a straight up staging of this classic tale?
It stays true to the spirit of the book, but I guess I’d never thought about offending the traditionalists. I guess there will always be traditionalists, but this is not that sort of take, and I think it’s an opportunity to go beyond the book to open your mind to an alternative version.
And it’s not like rethinking Jekyll and Hyde is something new?
I looked on Wikipedia and there are over 100 different reinterpretations of the story, so you get to the point of what is the traditional story? Some of the versions are so well known they are almost the official version as well now, so why not do it this way?
But like all good new versions of a classic there’s enough of the source material to keep die hard Stevenson fans happy?
The themes are there of that devil within you, what happens if you truly abandon your conscience and give in to the darker side of you.
One of the biggest challenges for any actor is a monologue like this and more so when you have to switch between characters. Having no hiding place onstage must be quite a scary thing especially after such a long layoff during the pandemic?
It’s very tricky, but I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of plays with multi-rolling in them, so I’m not a stranger to shifting roles. It’s all me so there’s no safety net and I’m driving the story throughout taking the audience on that journey. There’s definitely a daunting aspect to it, and gosh, can I pull this off, but you can only give it your best. I’m really interested in storytelling, which I love, so that’s the thing I hold onto. Just stick to the story and it should just flow, that’s the hope anyway.
The other obvious challenge is you are performing on the open-air Amphitheatre stage that artistic director Elizabeth Newman has created.
I’ve done the season at Pitlochry, so everything is performed outside, and that parameter of light and darkness has already been absent for the last two months. I think it’ll be interesting because it’s in Scotland where it starts to get darker earlier, so that descent of dusk while this story picks up pace getting deeper and darker will add a nice effect to it.
Like most performers you’ve had at least a year of enforced absence from doing what you love. How has it been getting back onstage for live shows?
I was itching to get back to performing, and I’ll be entirely honest with you the first performances that we did were quite a shock to the system. Suddenly it was like the audience is really here. My lockdown was quite solitary as I live alone and it was suddenly like how do I relate to all these people again?
And have you managed to get comfortable again?
It was quite overwhelming the first few times, but very quickly you think I’ve got this, and this is a world I enjoy. It just shows how special it is to perform to a live audience and how much we need it.
Jeykll and Hyde runs from Wednesday 18th August to Wednesday 8th September. For tickets and information visit www.pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com