Review – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Union Theatre

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On Friday I went with J, Josh, and Cate to see Jekyll and Hyde at the Union Theatre in Southwark. I was particularly interested in seeing this show because it was an original adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novella (by James Maclaren) and one of the other versions (i.e. the musical by Joan Eshkenazi or the one by Simon Adorian). I’ve also got a soft spot for the Union, with its delicious under-the-railway ambience and highly affordable pricing scheme (£12 each, full price, really works for me).

Although I thought I knew what this play was about – mad scientist takes potion that turns him into evil murderer – this show gave me a lot more insights into the story (not sure if it’s supported by the actual text but after seeing this play I’m interesting in looking at the source material). London is portrayed as more of a seamy, late-Victorian era city, with the fog a metaphor for its dirty underbelly (in some ways the ever-present world of sexual hungers but worked more to be a metaphor about human passions, including temper and the desire for power) coexisting beside the world of rationality, morality, and all of that other puffed-up claptrap. Our narrator is Gabriel John Utterson (apologies for not crediting the actor but I can’t find it anywhere online and I was too skint to buy a program), a lawyer, who lives at home with a wife (insert name here if I ever get it!) and child. He seems to value himself as a representative of all of the Victorian virtues – and is actively forcing his wife to live the life appropriate to the way he wishes to portray himself to society – while frequently going on about a variety of dastardly dealings he’s getting up to when he’s out of the house. (We never find out what he’s really doing. A blackmailer? A front for stolen goods? A hitman? He could have been involved in white slavery for all I could tell.)

This conflict between the values of “society” and man’s passion – in its manifold manifestations – seems to be the heart of this story, and I think that in the ways that the text varies from that of the original, it is likely to further emphasize this difference. The play seems to be taking the place in a spooky, Jack-the-Ripper-esque version of London, which seems a perfect way to emphasize the violence, sexual license, and desperation that coexisted beside the more Dickensian fantasy version* of Victorian London. The scenes really played up the gas-lamp and candlelight interiors (good job, Steve Miller – this is the first piece I’ve seen here that seemed really professionally lit) and used them to fantastic effect in conjunction with blackouts (which had me jumping out of my seat).

Dr. Jekyll (name!) does seem a believable, quirky, misanthropic scientist (whose ultimate speech rather reminded me of something out of an Ayn Rand novel) and Hyde (name again!) is a frightening vision of murderous intent. I also loved the stiff butler (Mr. Poole – actor’s name unknown!) and the multifaceted actor who portrayed Sir Danvers Carew (whom in this version is not a “kindly member of parliament” but another representative of the depraved side of the upper class), Hastie Lanyon, and a strange, nervous client of the lawyers. Sadly, all of these people’s good work was brought down a bit by the way act one dragged. I mean, really, I was hoping for something quite a bit more spooky, and this was pretty generally just a psychological drama. Still, the second act picked up a great deal, and I enjoyed watching the story spin toward its twisted, violent ending (but not too violent for a little creamcake like myself – I scare easily).

On a whiny note, I really wish the Union would get it together about their website now that they’ve deprecated the old site. First, because this isn’t a normal website, my employer blocks me from accessing it from work (I don’t know what is special about Webeden but my company’s filtering software says it’s “a web site hosting site” and for some reason it doesn’t consider these safe). Second, there is just a real lack of information about the shows on there – very little about the season as a whole, and NEVER so much as a list of the actors involved in the show. I mean, how hard would it have been to have done that? It could just be copied from the text of the program onto the website and it would be right there for me and my review. But no. My apologies to the actors I would have loved to have said nice things about but couldn’t.

*Dickens actually wasn’t too upbeat about Victorian London but the sex is decidedly stripped out of his works.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, February 20th, 2009. The production continues until Saturday, February 28th, 2009.)

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7 Responses to “Review – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Union Theatre”

  1. Jason Says:

    Cast names (but not who each played) on thestage.co.uk, and a couple of the cast have updated their profiles at castingcallpro: Warren Rusher was Hyde, and Amy Fox the maid/prostitute.

  2. Exit, pursued by a bear Says:

    WCG – all theatres should have free cast lists avaialble at the box office as well as programmes. All you need do is ask for one. You dont have to buy a programme.

    Also, try the IanVisits website for comprehensive lists of things to do in London that don’t break the bank. All sorts of stuff – and the majority of its free. Its revolutionised my evenings out!

  3. lesley Says:

    I go to the Union all the time and the progs is either paid for by donation or is always under a pound. the venue is run by a great couple and they are always working hard to make the venue one that people want to return to. maybe you could volunteer your technical support ? Or maybe you should work at work and not be on the internet ?

    • webcowgirl Says:

      I actually wrote this at home, on the weekend, on my own time, and busted my nuts trying to get the cast names together. And yeah, the program was probably only 2 quid, but given the choice between lunch the next day and a program I went for lunch. I can eat cheap but I don’t want to give up on my shows.

  4. Jonathan M Says:

    Nice review.

    I went to see this and I must admit I found it to be a bit of a disappointment. Some of the performances were very uneven (the woman playing the lawyer’s wife in particular) and I really felt that the play itself failed to really coalesce into anything coherent or particularly interesting. There were hints at homosexuality but the lack of any coherent theme left me feeling frustrated rather than engaged.

    I’m also horrified by the people who respond to your very even-handed review with the suggestion that you should volunteer for the theatre. Given how difficult it is to find out about off-West End plays I think blogs like yours are a real benefit to the theatrical scene.

    • webcowgirl Says:

      God, thank you so much for the kind words! I love fringe theater as well as mainstage but unfortunately people are very protective about their friends – and people who are friends with big stars are pretty busy and don’t bother to say anything to a small-time blogger. I try to respond to it professionally (even though I’m not a professional) because I want to make people feel free to participate. Sadly, too often people think the only acceptable comments are positive ones, which is why I usually won’t talk to anyone involved with a play about what I thought about it, even if I enjoyed it.

      But I feel that little shows like this one still deserve all the publicity they can get, and I think I had the ONLY review for this show. It had to get at least a few more people to check it out, though if someone was expecting a gore-fest, it was helpful for them to know it wasn’t what they were going to get.

  5. REVIEW : Hansel & Gretel (2007) « Ruthless Culture Says:

    […] sat through not only Stephen Moffat’s direction-less Jekyll (2007) but an equally uninspiring theatrical reworking of the original novella by James MacLaren entitled (somewhat unoriginally) Dr Jekyll and Mr […]

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