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Southwark Playhouse

The leaflet claims you will leave the theatre feeling dirty and I suppose you have to credit them for accurate advertising.

This is an adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde like never before – it mixes both a literal translation of the novel and a reinterpretation with gender bending and cabaret.  As the audience enters, you are greeted with the site of a man in ill-fitting clothes, fingering a cello.  The lights from stage right are harsh and illuminate a fog drifting in.

Jonathan Holloway’s interpretation of the famed Jekyll and Hyde is presented through a conceit of a crazed, formerly wealthy man (Elliott Rennie) coercing a less than legitimate book dealer, Mr. Worsfield (Joel Phillimore), into buying a manuscript from him.  He begins to read from the manuscript in order to convince him and thus the tale begins.  Only in this version, the respectable Henry Utterson (Michael Edwards), upon learning about a potentialkiller, called Hyde and his connection to a new client of his, finds a decidedly more feminine Dr. Jekyll.

This rendition is highly stylized – the actors are caked in white face paint and exaggerated expressions.  Cristina Catalina, as the dedicated doctor, is purposefully flat – her stoicism as she seduces Utterson done to evoke jeers and laughter.  Lawrence Enfield, played by Leo Marcus Wan, is given an over the top flamboyancy, filled with gestures and poses. More often than not, this stylization works.  It creates an air of ‘theatre’ and incites laughter.  However, this effect works best sparingly, on certain moments.  Unfortunately, this production overuses it and it tends to come across as awkward and forced rather than poignant or funny. Worse even, is the fact that the first twenty minutes of the play are undeniably boring: the rhythm of the style picks up in the second half and is actually pretty successful; however, the first section of the play is filled with too much exposition and endless talking.

I found myself eagerly anticipating the scenes between Worsfield and the script seller – the pull a story can have, how it can degrade the mind and you can never unread it.  Worsfield becomes trapped in that room, unable to leave despite knowing only horror will come from it.

Their use of stylization, sudden creepy smiles in the light, random burst into music, creates an atmosphere of mystery, comedy, and suspense.  It is scary in the way that a clown is scary: because it is supposed to be funny, yet beneath the mask there is clearly something sinister lurking. The story infects you, like a drug.  But perhaps that was the cocaine they were snorting throughout the telling.

If you are looking for a polished play and realism, this is not the show for you. The set transitions are not smooth and the actors play caricatures.  However, it feels purposeful – you are meant to see the theatre, the illusion.  As Utterson and Enfield speak of the geishas – the fake whores with painted white faces – its hard not to see the statement as a reflection on the actors on stage, with their faces in white.  It is an illusion, one that writer Jonathan Holloway and director Jessica Edwards want us to see. As the play continuously questions: how can you be a truth seeker without at one point doubting the reality of everything; what in fact is reality? And what is merely an illusion we wish to see.

To be honest, I wouldn’t go back to see this show again, however, for the most part I had a good time watching it. If you like very stylized, abstract interpretations of a classic piece of literature, grab a drink and a group of friends and check it out.

  • Drama
  • By Jonathan Holloway
  • Directed by Jessica Edwards
  • Produced by Flipping the Bird and Red Shift
  • Cast includes: Cristina Catalina
, Michael Edwards, 
Joel Phillimore, 
Elliott Rennie
, and Leo Marcus Wan
  • Southwark Playhouse
  • Until 19th October 2013
  • Time: 19:30
  • Review by Becca Kaplan
  • 25th September 2013

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