Review: The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Question: How do you turn a Victorian gothic novella into a gripping 21st century political thriller? Answer: get Arrows & Traps involved.

Taking Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic story and its themes as a starting point, writer and director Ross McGregor has created something completely original, a dark, twisty horror story that becomes all the more terrifying for its proximity to real life. This is still recognisably Jekyll and Hyde, but it’s also a whole new story about school shootings, white privilege and political scandal that could have been lifted from today’s headlines.

Photo credit: Davor Tovarlaza @The Ocular Creative

Henry Jekyll (Will Pinchin) is a young, idealistic presidential candidate running in the 2020 U.S. election. With Trump impeached and awaiting trial, the nation is bitterly divided, and Jekyll wants to be the man to heal its wounds. When troubled freelance journalist Gabrielle Utterson (Lucy Ioannou) joins his campaign, she grows suspicious about his connection to violent criminal Edward Hyde (Christopher Tester). With the help of sex worker Imogen Poole (Gabrielle Nellis-Pain) and scientist Hayley Lanyon (Charlie Ryall), she sets out to uncover the shocking truth.

One of the most impressive aspects of this production is that despite re-telling a well-known story, it still holds plenty of surprises. It’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that Jekyll and Hyde turn out to be the same person – that’s pretty much common knowledge, even if you haven’t read the book. But the way that twist is set up here is so clever that it feels like we’re discovering it for the first time, and there’s a delicious “Oh!” moment in Act 2 as all the pieces suddenly fit together.

As brilliant as the writing is, it’s easily matched by the standard of the performances, which are universally flawless. Will Pinchin gives a masterclass in physicality, convincingly capturing every nuance of each of Jekyll’s very different personas – public and private, good and evil. For a politician, what is said is so often less important than how it’s said, and as a popular, charismatic on-screen personality, Pinchin gets the delivery exactly right.

Equally outstanding is Lucy Ioannou, who plays Gabrielle Utterson with a stunning, haunted intensity from which it’s almost impossible to look away. We don’t need to be told that she’s battling her own demons; it’s all there in her eyes and posture from the moment the play begins. In contrast, Gabrielle Nellis-Pain radiates warmth and openness as Imogen Poole, who becomes Utterson’s confidante. Her early monologue, in which she recalls with undisguised emotion Hyde’s unprovoked attack on a young girl, is instantly captivating, and just as Utterson looks to her repeatedly for comfort, after a while so do we.

Photo credit: Davor Tovarlaza @The Ocular Creative

As this is an Arrows & Traps production, it should come as no surprise to anyone that it also looks amazing. The use of video screens is a particularly clever touch, a physical obstacle between the audience and the characters to show how technology can distort the truth. The lighting design from Anna Reddyhoff is superb, as are Bryony J. Thompson’s costumes, each of which perfectly captures the personality of the character wearing it.

It’s always a sign of a good play when you wake up the next morning still thinking about it, and this one gives us more than enough to dwell on for several days. So much about the world we live in today is built on choosing a side, and then being prepared to defend that side against all argument. Democrat or Republican, Leave or Remain, pro- or anti-guns… We’re growing more and more incapable of compromise or finding middle ground on any subject, and that division is driving good people into dark places. This – not Brexit, or Trump, or any of the other issues that we see in the headlines every day – is the real crisis, and to sum it up as eloquently as this play does is an outstanding achievement. It’s Jekyll and Hyde for a new generation: an endlessly thought-provoking, unsettling, enthralling production that’s not to be missed.

The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde is at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 28th September, then touring – see arrowsandtraps.com for details.

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