For a summer production, a dose of darkness would perhaps seem a touch out of place. But the theme of this year’s Festival of Ideas is Order and Chaos, and so a reworking of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde seems all too appropriate. Set in an unused warehouse just off Walmgate, I was treated to an early viewing of this original, student-written play by Tom Duthie and ByTheHand Productions, and it was an impressive showcase of York’s hidden talents.
The play opens with a harsh, unforgiving Matron (Beryl Nairn) interrogating a strait-jacketed Dr. Jekyll (Peter Marshall), whose words retched from his throat with a convincing resignation to his fate. The tone was set immediately with her wonderfully sharp articulation and continuously probing questions, which the audience will find themselves asking again and again as they cling to the edge of their seats; mainly that of why Jekyll (or rather, Hyde) would end up killing his most trusted, devoted and loyal friend: Gabriel John Utterson (Joe Gregory).
Throughout the play, Marshall and Gregory’s painting of Jekyll and Utterson’s deep-rooted friendship is heart-wrenchingly convincing to the extent that I was nearly moved to tears by a climactic scene between them both near the very end of the play. Gregory’s performance in this respect was particularly spectacular; he showed Utterson’s confusion and desperation in the frustratingly cyclic process of trying to protect his friend with painfully realistic expressions, and Marshall bounced off this realism with equally desperate ardour.
In fact, throughout the performance, Marshall’s portrayal of the quasi-schizophrenic, compartmentalising nature of Jekyll and Hyde is in equal parts terrifying and moving. Whilst at one moment becoming undeniably the passionate doctor researching breakthrough medicinal technology, he shifts between that and his other, amoral, unpredictable and arguably insane persona with impressive ease, making the titular character captivating to watch throughout.
Anna Soden’s involvement as the determined Molly Mason was relatable and spunky, her acting lending an important sense of justice-seeking to what otherwise could seem an overly dark, despairing production. Similarly, the emotion provided by Nina McMillan with her complex and tangled relation to Jekyll as Harriet Lanyon well emphasised the more interpersonal effects of the tragic consequences of Hydeian immorality as presented by the play, creating an arguably more relatable element to the bloody outcomes of the story. All of the actors involved had clearly been directorially coached to a very high standard; all focus was where it should have been through the entirety of the show, and nothing seemed out of place nor at all awkward at any point, which I considered notable particularly for an amateur production.
Atmospherically, the production has it absolutely spot on: as mentioned before, the unused warehouse with its echoiness and almost complete lack of decoration provided an eerie setting to the play, and the use of lighting was spot-on in both timing and mood. The music throughout (as written by Creative Director, Ollie Mills) was appropriate, and often served to further heighten the extremes of emotion which are a constant theme for every character in the play.
All in all, The Jekyll & Hyde Case was an impressively well put-together production that showed hardly any fault, even on the viewing I had which was the night before the official opening. Admittedly there were a few minor technical issues, such as that of myself as an audience member’s getting used to the echoes of the large warehouse with which the cast will have undoubtedly become familiar through rehearsal, but as a production it truly was impressively fascinating. I would very highly recommend anyone to see this play for themselves; a uniquely modern and unexpectedly touching rendition of the classic tale, it is truly not to be missed.