Friday, January 27

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Leith Theatre

The story of Jekyll and Hyde has had many a version or retelling over the years, usually focusing on Dr Jekyll’s battle with himself and his genetically mutated personality of Mr Hyde however this production takes a very different angle. The script sticks closer to that of the original text by Robert Louis Stevenson, making Utterson (Lorn Macdonald) the lead and having Dr Jekyll (Henry Pettigrew) take a back seat.

The story follows Gabriel Utterson, a lawyer who goes to visit his old friend Harry Jekyll when finding a strange note within Jekyll’s will. This leads Utterson down a very dark rabbit hole when he discovers Jekyll has been helping out a certain barbaric and mysterious Mr Hyde. Building an obsession over capturing and punishing Hyde for his wicked crimes, Utterson finds himself transforming into more of a monster himself, switching from the naive lawyer who cares about the little man to a power hungry and obsessive tyrant.

The National Theatre of Scotland have staged their production in the derelict Leith theatre, a space which has been closed as a theatre since the 80s and they could not have chosen a more perfect venue. It must not be confused that this is not a live theatre production in which one would expect, this is essentially a live movie set in which an audience have been invited to watch. The moment you walk into the theatre you can see the different intricate sets as you pass through the building into the audition. You cannot see the actors at any point during the filming other than briefly from above in Hyde’s laboratory, for the most part you just watch the live screening on a big screen in black and white just as you would the streamed production in the cinema. Different areas of the theatre are used to accommodate set in which you can see during the intervals. Please do not a expect a full staged production, this is more a glorified movie premier.

A very nice touch is that they have staged the whole production in Edinburgh despite the fact that the original play is set in England. By making the play local to the area they’ve managed to incorporate local history such as the South Bridge Vaults and Carlton Hill Monument. It’s also very fitting considering that the original story was inspired by Edinburgh crook Deacon Brodie.

The whole cast has so much talent, not a single actor lowered the standard. Macdonald himself carries the show with very little off screen/stage time. Whilst you can tell some of the production had been pre-recorded, the majority of it was done live with what I can only imagine involved Macdonald running from set to set and some very skilled camera crew to make the changes seem almost seamless, that being said Macdonald does not at any point seem tired or dishevelled between scenes. His portrayal of Utterson is fantastic as   he starts of by playing the character very likeable and sweet, but over time we see him start to change completely. Even in black and white his eyes alone start to change; they grow darker and more unhinged.

Pettigrew plays a very well to do Jekyll and a menacing Hyde however as he wasn’t the true main character of the piece and the role did get lost, it would have been nice to see more of the actor’s Hyde. The main issue with this particular production script is that whilst it focuses on Utterson’s obsession over Hyde and power, it neglects to fill in those missing pieces to the story: why Hyde exists, what changes Jekyll to Hyde and we also do not get to see the big struggle between the two personalities as Jekyll realizes that Hyde has gone too far. They have stuck to the original text but left out the big explanations from the end.

Another issue that arises come from the viewpoint of the live audience is that the production itself is fantastic and very compelling however it works better as a filmed production than it does having a live audience there. This was down to one major technical problem; the audio was delayed and so when the actors were performing in the auditorium you could hear them live but then moments later you would hear the same lines come through your headset which became very distracting. It also seemed that for the smaller roles the microphone quality wasn’t as strong and so the audio would come out much more muffled and fuzzy. As a live recorded production this would be worth 5 stars however from the perspective of a live audience member, it wasn’t very practical. The theatre was very cold, the audio being out of sync was very distracting and for a live performance you couldn’t see the actors, that’s why I have to take this down a star.

That being said it’s a marvellous watch and the acting, set and cinematography is top notch.

Reviewer: Beth Eltringham

Reviewed: 26th February 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★