The simplicity shines in Vertigo Theatre’s ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’

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Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous gothic novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has had many stage productions. The version on stage at Vertigo Theatre is a fresh adaptation by Nick Lane and this production is its North American premiere. This production is adapted for four artists playing multiple roles and also features a female character and a romantic storyline. This adaptation is a stage marvel. The cast is incredibly talented and the production leaves the audience in horror. The design creates a compelling narrative but this adaptation is not without its problems. Eleanor Lanyon’s character is somewhat problematic and the changes in the storyline make the production feel like a glorification of violence and murder. But the theatrical elements of the play are worth seeing.

Vertigo’s production of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde introduces the surrounding characters who tell the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They break down their relationship to the scientist. This portion of the play is slow and it’s because the audience is being told the story, instead of being shown the story. Once we get introduced to the protagonist Gabriel Utterson (Grant Tilly), the action in the narrative picks up considerably. We meet Hastings Lanyon (Daniel Fong) and his fiancĂ©e Eleanor (Alyson Lynch) and finally, Dr. Jekyll (Joe Perry). Perry also plays Mr. Hyde and the choreography in the production, designed by director Javier Vilalta, makes the transformation vivid. It’s almost as if Perry is a completely different artist on stage, as if Jekyll and Hyde are played by two different people. There is an immediate attraction between Eleanor and Dr. Jekyll’s work in science. She challenges him and takes a genuine interest in his experiments. But his work starts to get out of hand and he runs out of money and subjects to continue, but he eventually finds a solution for him to be able to continue his work.

Perry is outstanding as Jekyll/Hyde as his transformation is mesmerizing. All aspects of his portrayal of both characters are amazing and alongside Vilalta’s choreography, there isn’t a time where you are confused as to which character Perry is portraying. Lynch shows her talents as Eleanor and as a prostitute who loses an eye. She also provides the music in the production alongside Tilly, who is steady as Utterson and Hyde’s murder victim. Fong is a contrast to the passion of the Jekyll/Hyde character and also shows his movement skills. This production doesn’t make use of any projection design and that decision is thoughtful. Vilalta weaves John Webber’s lighting design with Kristin Eveleigh’s sound design to create a horror feel, especially when the audience witnesses a murder in slow motion. Lauren Acheson’s set design ensures that there are no walls or barriers on stage. Locales are created in the imagination with light and sound. Ralamy Kneeshaw’s costume design ensures that artists can take on different characters without it impacting the narrative. It makes sure that the creepiness is captured in the clothing that the artists wear. This is a back-to-basics production and this simplicity shines.

It’s a bit of a shame that the character of Eleanor is portrayed as someone who falls in love to the point that she isn’t fazed by the object of her affection committing murder. There is also no basis for her attraction as Dr. Jekyll is socially inept and buried in his work. It’s hardly the basis for fiery passion and fierce loyalty, but of course, the only female character in the entire production has to be this flat as a character. It’s an opportunity lost in a new adaptation to not change the ‘completely blinded by love’ one note character that is the main female voice in the entire play.

Vertigo Theatre is really exploring horror in its production of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. If you’re not turned off by glorified murder and violence and like to explore the dark side, this production is definitely for you.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde runs until October 29th. Tickets and more information are available online.

Photo: Joe Perry, Daniel Fong, Photo by Fifth Wall Media

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