Flipping the Bird’s production of Jekyll and Hyde attempts to put a new, interesting – and erotic – twist on a familiar story. A seedy antique dealer recounts to a dodgy publisher the tale of the litigious Utterson and his doomed romantic tryst with a malevolent female Jekyll. In this new adaptation, by Jonathan Holloway, Jekyll is an Austrian doctor who is attempting to create a drug that will allow her to conceive a new race of hermaphroditic ubermenschen.
The set, with its Victorian grime and sliding window-panes, is beautiful, and some of the cast put in capable performances – no mean feat given the simplicity of the characterisation – but there’s little else to enjoy about this production.
Most, if not all, of this is down to Holloway’s script. The main plot is stymied by the intrusion of a pointless framing narrative that sheds no light on the narrative and mainly consists of the two men gawping and leering as they tell Jekyll’s story. The frequency with which the play returns to the antique shop setting feels like an attempt to pre-determine the audience’s reaction to the primary story, and needlessly draws things out. Moreover, the live music, when not serving as another temporary distraction from the main plot, contributes a cheesy, melodramatic quality to the whole affair.
This framing device takes precious time away from the main characters, who in turn aren’t given enough space to develop beyond caricatures. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the only striking element of Cristina Catalina’s identity as Jekyll is her character’s carnivorous sexual appetite. Bizarrely, there was not even a hint of internal conflict in the character. Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll is a good man with a latent capacity for evil that is represented by Mr Hyde, but this Jekyll already a villainous figure, and therefore her final sexual metamorphosis adds little (bar the addition of a dildo) to proceedings.
Utterson, whose staidness increases the horrific gravitas of Stevenson’s novel, is here made so foolish a figure that it’s impossible to maintain even a fleeting interest in him. Although the scenes of dialogue between Michael Edwards’ Utterson and his dandyish friend Enfield, played by Leo Marcus Wan, provide some sub-Wildean moments of fun, Holloway’s play lacks the requisite eloquence. Take Enfield’s annoying penchant for describing real events as happening ‘literally’, as if there were any chance of
them happening otherwise. I accept that people can be fascistic about this issue, but when a modern colloquialism makes its way into an adaptation of this kind, it doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence in the writer’s engagement with the source material.
This is a production that’s both sensationalist and insubstantial as well as being beset with numerous structural problems. The concept of a female Jekyll is actually a strong one and one I’d like to see developed but it would need more capable hands than this to do it justice.