There are only so many ways you can adapt a classic book and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Gothic horror, Jekyll & Hyde, has been through them all…
Well, not quite all. It’s fallen into the hands of Let Them Call It Mischief, an anarchic theatre group, which has created it’s own heady cocktail of lunacy, blending the antics of Python, Milligan and even Sherlock, to produce a madcap comedy for London’s Pleasance Theatre.
This tale of class warfare and courgettes doesn’t resemble my memory of the original tale yet, surprisingly, the bare bones do come from Stevenson’s own chilling tale.
Let’s call this a loose adaptation – for it features the obligatory Trump gag, a smarmy London mayor who is all talk and no trousers, an eco story for modern punters and jokes denouncing the, er, Daily Maul – a popular national newspaper.
There is also a running gag about courgettes. Of course there is. No Victorian melodrama would be complete without it.
The laughs are a hit or miss affair – though I did like Utterson’s declaration: “Lanyon’s been murdered!! I would have told you sooner but he wasn’t dead then.”
Some scenes are so bonkers that the audience groans at the absurdity of it, but others fall flat, let down by the weak dialogue.
Writers Danny Wainwright and Daniel Hallissey have moved away from the traditional story about good versus evil which concentrated on one man’s fight to control his split personality.
Here the affable Henry Jekyll, is mayor of London – a composite of a number of current and well known political faces – and uses his alter ego, Dr Edward Hyde, to create a cholera superbug, capable of ridding London of the riffraff, by poisoning the water supply used by the working and lower classes.
Solicitor and narrator, John Utterson, relates his fight to thwart Hyde’s evil plan and save the day. He is helped in his endeavours by a feisty heroine, Martha, and his rather effete cousin, Richard Enfield.
Andrew Venning’s hapless Utterson isn’t the brightest lawyer at the bar but somehow, against all odds, he summons up the courage and determination to pursue Jekyll & Hyde in a race against time to save the capital.
He gives Utterson a vacuity to be proud of, elevating stupidity to an art form. At times Utterson struggles to comprehend and digest information he’s being given. It’s an eternal mystery quite how he passed his law exams.
The hardest working cast member is Elliott Ross who really knows a thing or two about split personalities. He plays a bunch of butlers, a newspaper editor, Enfield, oddball scientist Hastie Lanyon and a thick plod.
In one scene he’s swapping costumes when asked to show Jekyll out. “Will you come this way?” he shouts from the wings. “I’m half-way through a costume change!”
In another he plays two characters in conversation – at the same time.
Alyssa Noble’s Martha is a thoroughly modern miss who is actually able to think on her feet and not just arm candy for the unintentionally brave Uttterson.
And, if you’re casting for a oily politician-type then you need look no further than Graham Elwell who excels as Jekyll but is a bit of a disappointment as the deranged Hyde.
Wainwright, who also directs, has decided to do away with Jekyll’s oft mocked transformation into the monstrous Hyde, and replace it with a cut-price version that sees Elwell don a Phantom mask and a gruff mockney accent.
The constantly revolving stage is irritating after a while but I understand the need for it. Even Martha’s piqued by it.
“Why are we revolving?” she asks Utterson. “It’s a flashback!”
Overall, Mischief’s production is silly and eccentric but never really fires on all cylinders.
Jekyll & Hyde runs at the Pleasance Theatre until June 10.
Let Them Call It Mischief come up with an anarchic eco-adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll & Hyde that is darkly funny and pays homage to Britain’s comedy pioneers.