Thursday, July 30, 2015

'Jekyll & Hyde' at the Platform Theatre, 29th July 2015

Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a surprisingly tricky work to adapt. The core concept of split personalities and grotesque physical transformations is malleable, but the original work comes burdened with the milquetoast protagonist Gabriel Utterson, through whose eyes we investigate what's going on with the mysterious doctor and his violent relative.

As a loose rule, productions that focus on the titular Doctor tend to work, those that focus Utterson end up suffocated by stuffy Victorian melodrama. Ominously, Chung Ying's production, directed by Jonathan Holloway, features great heaping lumps of Utterson. But there's a twist. See, Dr Jekyll is a woman and Mr Hyde is a man. 

A dollop of genderfuckery tossed into the story makes for a tantalising prospect. The conceit is that Jekyll (Olivia Winteringham) is an Eastern European genius scientist. After experiencing horrific trauma during a distant war she escapes to London, vowing that she will never experience such atrocity again. To this end she begins a series of self-administered chemical and surgical treatments designed to banish her femininity and replace it with thrusting, forthright and rapacious masculinity. Enter Mr Hyde. What follows is a warped love affair between the eccentric Jekyll and somewhat short-sighted Utterson (Michael Edwards). As the months tick by the mental and physical transformations grow ever more severe, the crazed alpha male Hyde running rampant. 

The 'mad scientist' brand of lab coat.
You'd be forgiven for assuming that this sounds pretty goddamn awesome. And it is. Sometimes. There's a lot to enjoy about Jekyll & Hyde; bizarre dialogue, bonkers physical performances, excellent costumes, a great set, striking makeup, a couple of seriously cool lighting cues and a pleasingly sincere embrace of grand guignol. 

So it's frustrating that all that is hamstrung by a dull (and pointless) framing story and achingly long set-up. Though just an hour and half long, there are some interminable sequences where top-hatted men wander about the stage doing very little of interest. You can almost feel the energy drain from the audience, the stilted dialogue and mannered performances inducing a general doziness.

Things improve at precisely the same time as Olivia Winteringham takes the stage. Her performance is worth the price of admission alone; at times a gloriously unhinged B-movie mad scientist, then a hypersexed femme fatale, then a megabarmy super manly serial killer pervert. She literally throws herself into the role, careering around the set and off the other actors like a demented pinball. 

Highlights include a deliciously kinky monologue about her fleshy flower being penetrated, writhing around in quasi-orgasmic bliss as she transforms and quasi-Victorian constrictive costume with more than a sniff of bondage to it. Best of all is the finale, in which Hyde is finally revealed as a grimy Marilyn Manson analogue who proceeds to try and fuck Utterson up the arse.

I'm fully aware that I'm selling this show pretty hard right now - what kind of bozo wouldn't want to see that stuff live? These bits are great fun, though admittedly pretty far from the sober exploration of transgenderism, wartime sexual violence and feminism in Victorian England I'd anticipated.

But be warned, sprinkled amongst some genuinely dizzy highs are some crushingly dull lows. A classic mixed bag.


Jekyll & Hyde is at the Platform Theatre until 8 August. Tickets here.

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