Thursday 30 July 2015

Jekyll & Hyde - Chung Ying Theatre Company @ The Platform Theatre

Jekyll & Hyde - Chung Ying Theatre Company

With the theme of transformation at the heart of Stevenson's narrative, an exploration of gender practically writes itself. In this adaptation of Jekyll & Hyde, the doctor is a female scientist who turns herself into a man, but the sexual power play within the character blurs the boundaries between human and monster.

Whether director Jonathan Holloway has achieved his ambition of reinvigorating the story for contemporary audiences is, however, debatable. His programme notes explain that Jekyll is an "East European research scientist...who has experienced unspeakable abuse in far off war zones" and finds safety in transforming herself into a man - no doubt meant to be a tragic story. This isn't well explained within the play itself, though, so it's difficult to sympathise with the character and see her as anything other than a vampish villain, though she remains an alluring seductress all the same.

If anything, then, this Jekyll & Hyde is more noir thriller set in a 19th century gothic horror world, with a mysterious woman at its heart who uses sexuality to lure in her prey: a young lawyer who falls for her dangerous charm. The aesthetic is truly chilling: designer Neil Irish's set tilts ominously towards the audience, Holloway's eerie lighting casts grim shadows, and accordion music provides a macabre soundtrack.

Coming from Hong Kong's Chung Ying Theatre Company, the cast is a mix of HK and UK actors. However, they all perform with porcelain white painted faces - this may add to the gothic performance (and alludes to China's equivalent to geishas), but it ignores the ethnicity of the actors which could have added an extra level of interest. As such, setting the play within London's Chinatown feels like a forced way of incorporating the theatre company. In addition, the story is framed as a play within a play that unnecessary complicates the narrative.

Yet although the adaptation doesn't always work and doesn't quite explore gender in the detail it could, it hardly matters - the atmosphere is stunning and disturbing, drawing us into a compelling narrative. That's only aided by some superb performances, in particular Olivia Winteringham's sexually charged Jekyll/Hyde and Michael Edwards as lawyer Henry Utterson who succumbs to her whim.

This production comes from Chung Ying in partnership with (UK based) Red Shift Theatre Productions; if such a partnership can bring such dark and intriguing theatre to the UK, long may it continue.


Watch: Jekyll & Hyde runs at the Platform Theatre until the 8th August.

Jekyll & Hyde - Chung Ying Theatre Company