The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde review – theatre-film hybrid is an unwieldy beast | National Theatre of Scotland


Two years ago the idea would have been preposterous: why would anyone re-enact Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella in the dilapidated corridors and back rooms of Leith theatre while the audience watched a live screening in the auditorium? But this is 2022 and film-theatre hybrids are as current as face masks and hand gel.

A shame the performance itself is so old fashioned. I’m not referring to the pastiche 1940s atmosphere created so effectively by writer and director Hope Dickson Leach in her black-and-white movie. With its stark side-lighting, gloomy backgrounds and the diffused glow of grand Edinburgh New Town windows, it has the look of a Dickens adaptation by David Lean. Add a touch of film noir and you’ve got a suitably creepy backdrop for Henry Pettigrew’s slowly disintegrating Dr Jekyll to transform into the murderous Mr Hyde.

No, what feels creaky is the adaptation. This is a National Theatre of Scotland production, recorded live for its opening weekend before a cinema release, and yet it feels too buttoned-up to be theatrical. A costume drama driven by verbose Victorian gents keeping their passions just beneath the surface.

That is despite Dickson Leach moving the setting from London to its spiritual home of Edinburgh and working in themes that should resonate. Lorn Macdonald’s Utterson is an upwardly mobile lawyer who hangs out in the New Club with a band of callous businessmen who exploit the city’s brewery workers while hatching a vainglorious scheme to build the National Monument of Scotland on top of Calton Hill.

Today’s capitalists are no less prone to mechanisation and vanity projects, and yet this bunch of humourless villains seem to have little to do with our world. The imagery of desecrated graves and purgative leeches suggests a social order built, like Jekyll’s festering alter ego, on immoral foundations. But that is an idea that remains latent in a production in which the baddies are too blatantly corrupt while their victims are too uncomplicatedly innocent.

The gothic power of the Stevenson story still exerts a hold, but it is hard to see this hybrid experiment satisfying either cineastes or theatre lovers.

Theatrical run ended. In cinemas from 27 February.

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