Posts Tagged ‘Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde’

Review – Pictures of Dorian Gray – Jermyn Street Theater

June 13, 2019

While Oscar Wilde’s plays mocking Victorian society are regularly revived, his novel of art and evil – The Portrait of Dorian Gray – doesn’t have a standard theatrical version, despite being popular as a film and even having some luck as a ballet and even as a promenade theatrical event. It’s a great novel, deliciously fin de siecle, a perfect companion for Jeckyll and Hyde, the poetry of Baudelaire, and the art of Von Stuck. And it deserved better than I had seen it get on stage before, and my hopes were high that Lucy Shaw’s fresh adaptation at the Jermyn Street Theater – and the decision to use four different configurations of the cast, including two versions with a female lead – would bring fresh insights and real vibrancy to this play.

As a female Dorian, Helen Reuben is deliciously chosen – endlessly fresh faced, a delight for the eyes, absolutely believable as the person whose portrait could capture the essence of beauty – or someone’s soul. As her tempter, Basil Hallward, Stanton Wright nicely forms heartless words to entice Dorian away from anything other than the worship of the self; and with the two of them decked in black velvet and gilding, they create a feeling of late night menace and brutality that makes the sensibility of the novel feel very alive. The portrait itself is left unseen, as is best for horror: it is merely a reflective pond beneath a muddled shining wall that might have been a mirror. The agelessness is left to the true Dorian; the ugliness of the portrait is created entirely with words.

These words, however, prove a distraction in too much of the story. With two more actors (most memorably painter Henry Wotten – Richard Keightley – and Sibyl Vane – Augustina Seymour) left with not quite enough to do, they are sent to speak Wilde’s words describing Gray’s words much like a Greek chorus – as a near constant chant beneath the dialogue on stage. The words do a lot to help pump up the atmosphere of poisoned flowers and redolent evil – but they prove too much of a distraction and ended in reducing the sense of impending doom. It’s all extremely successful when Dorian is immersing herself in corrupting literature – hard to convey what she is taking in otherwises – but when she’s going to opium dens and corrupting the wives and sons of the elite, the audience is given little sense of just what she is doing and why she is so out of control. Admittedly Wilde himself doesn’t go into much detail about Gray’s activities, but her time spent in the depths and ultimate ruination could have been built up to much better effect. Still, the ending is handled nicely, with beautiful theatricality, and the night ended with a grand feeling of satisfaction.

Picture C Cast, Pictures of Dorian Gray

Picture C Cast, Pictures of Dorian Gray: Helen Reuben, Augustina Seymour, Stanton Wright, Richard Keightley (L-R)

One thing really had me struggling, though: to a great extent, Gray’s fall is the fall of a man, and a gay man at that. While Reuben and Wright have a delicious electricity between them, it felt to me like it was only because Gray was a man and an affair between the two could not have been portrayed on stage (or in a book!) at the time this novel was written that they did not consummate their relationship. And women cannot ruin men the way Gray ruined both men and women. It was a pleasure to see this play done with a woman in the lead role, but I think some changes to the script for the “Picture C/Picture D” cast could have amped the impacted tremendously. That said, given Stanton Wright’s charisma, I think it would be worthwhile to see it again in the “Picture A/Picture B” configuration … this fine story has been brought to life with London smoke and back alleys intact, and I’d enjoy taking another trip down the road to glorious self destruction.

(This review is for a performance that took place on June 11th, 2019. It runs through July 6th.)

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

February 22, 2009

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.)