The story of Jekyll and Hyde is almost unrivalled in the gothic canon. Its influence, scope and complex moral psychology have so much transcended Robert Louis Stevenson’s Victorian novella that to produce an original adaptation is a considerable task, but one largely met by the NYT REP Company. The blurb describes a ‘radical reimagining’ of the original text and certainly delivers on that promise, with the story of Dr Jekyll transposed onto his imagined widow Harriet (Elizabeth McCafferty). In a further layer of ‘radical reimagining’ the novella is framed by the modern context of an 18-year-old feminist blogger (Jenny Walser), appropriating Stevenson’s text as a satire for the present day.
The first half of the play skirts and hints around this wider context in a manner which is initially jarring, but gains greater resonance with hindsight so that scenes and beats that lacked impact or cohesion at the time are attributed retrospective poignancy. The language of the 21st Century bleeds into the Victorian tale with a degree of inconsistency that blurs the line between the different levels of fiction, and though this may have been the intention of writer Evan Placey, it occasionally strays too far into the absurd. Tonally, the play has problems. As the second half builds to an engaging climax, the politics of the script are at times didactic to the point of parody, while the comedy – of which there is a lot – lacks the appropriate subtlety for satire. Meanwhile, the injection of moral ambiguity to the storyline via feminism is a compelling idea, but is too frequently pushed beyond the limits of empathy.
Elizabeth McCafferty brings an impressive delicacy to the role of Harriet Jekyll, but the script and direction deny her the freedom and motive to be fully convincing as the alternative personality Flossie Hyde, increasingly losing the nuance that shines so brightly from McCafferty’s performance in the early stages of the play. The second half is dominated by Jenny Walser’s artful and accomplished performance as Hyde’s modern-day counterpart, as she walks a carefully considered line between vulnerable righteousness and undiluted amorality. The ensemble, too, is strong and the direction excels when it fully utilises the full-bodied physicality of the cast, while standout moments of comic delivery come notably from Mohammed Mansaray and Rosella Doda.
At times, the ambition and ideas of the piece exceed its financial and logistical capabilities, and for all the technical wizardry, a touch more directorial restraint may better exhibit the acting talent of the company. Regardless, NYT’s Jekyll and Hyde provides a characterful new voice to a time-worn classic, bringing under the spotlight some of the most accomplished young actors in British theatre. - Sandy Thin