Lung Ha Theatre Company and Drake Music Scotland have together pulled off an atmospheric reworking of RL Stevenson’s, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
As the audience take their seats, the musicians are already in place. Half hidden in the shadows behind the silhouetted cityscape of a Victorian Edinburgh, they make the eerie sounds of echoing bells, indistinct footsteps and faint, gurgling drains. Together, these auditory and visual elements create the distinct flavour of the time and place and set the deliciously mysterious mood of the strange story to come.
The imagery for the set was borrowed by designer Becky Minto from illustrator Joanna Robson’s laser cut book, in which she transported Stevenson’s classic tale from London to Edinburgh. With Lung Ha’s innovative and resourceful Artistic Director, Maria Oller, bringing together award-winning director Caitlin Skinner and the Traverse Theatre’s 2014 Channel 4 Playwright Morna Pearson, it is not surprising that this clever adaptation has a fundamentally female focus.
This story’s central character is Dr Jekyll’s daughter, Miriam. Possessing both an intelligent and curious mind, she is more than a little frustrated by the strangling corset that Victorian culture was literally and metaphorically lacing her into. Fascinated by her father’s theory that inside every man (not woman of course, as they are fortunately far too simple, having a brain only half as big as a man’s) there exists the duality of good and evil, it is she who mixes the potion, creating her alter-ego in the shape of a female Hyde. Sinister goings-on are finally transmuted into good deeds through the enlightened understanding of self-knowledge and self-acceptance.
Emma McCaffrey puts in a solid performance as Miriam Jekyll, and Nicola Tuxworth is utterly compelling as the silent Hyde, as she somehow manages to convey a menacing sense of power without words. As this piece is all about light and shade, it is fitting that the beauty of it lay in balancing the suspense with a keen sense of humour. Pearson’s quick-witted, earthy writing is at the heart of this but it still has to be played, and Stephen Tait (Dr Jekyll), John Edgar (Poole) and Leigh Flynn (Elsie) in particular delivered punch-lines and waggish asides, each with their own brand of timing and self-assurance.
This was, though, an ensemble piece through and through, with all the cast – each of whom has a learning and/or physical disability - pulling together and undeniably pulling it off. They are of course, like all performers, supported by a team of committed creative giants and Greg Sinclair, Musical Director of Drake Music Scotland, also deserves a mention for the superb work he has elicited from the four incredible musicians that performed this evening. Watching these companies in action is exciting and inspirational - catch them while you can.