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GSC ‘Raw And Affecting’ Production Of The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Published on: 19 Oct, 2022
Updated on: 23 Oct, 2022

By Alice Fowler

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has not been out of print since it was published in 1886. Such is its hold on the popular imagination that film and stage adaptations abound.

Samuel Collings: ‘raw and affecting’ as Dr Henry Jekyll in the GSC production of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Now, the Guildford Shakespeare Company (GSC) brings its own flair to this Gothic study of the struggle between good and evil, staged in the Victorian splendour of St Nicolas’ church.

Jekyll & Hyde is GSC’s first one-man show: a departure for a company best known for large-scale, ensemble pieces. As such, its success or otherwise rests in the hands of a single actor, Samuel Collings.

Jekyll (Samuel Collings) embarks on the chemical experiment that will turn him into Mr Hyde.

Happily, Collings, with many theatre credits behind him (though just one for GSC – a staged reading in 2016), meets this challenge with aplomb.

His portrayal of Henry Jekyll – a respected doctor who, through medical experiments that go horribly wrong, is overtaken by Edward Hyde, the ‘baser twin’ within – is raw and affecting.

Remarkably, Collings plays seven other characters as well, switching between them – sometimes in successive sentences – with as little as a sweep of his top-hat.

Mixing his drink: Henry Jekyll concocts his dangerous potion

Director Marieke Audsley and designer Neil Irish make good use of the white-washed walls and vaulted ceiling of St Nicolas’. With just one man on stage, light and sound effects must be razor-sharp. GSC stalwarts, lighting designer Mark Dymock and sound designer Matt Eaton, give full rein to their talents.

Collings’ blue eyes are sometimes pale and blazing, at others shadowed and impenetrable; while towards the end, as Hyde takes hold, his face is bathed in green and ghoulish light.

Centre stage is an extraordinary, brightly lit medicine cabinet, full of flasks and vials, with which Henry Jekyll makes ill-fated experiments in “transcendental medicine” attempting – all too successfully – to isolate the evil in himself.

The monster, Edward Hyde, takes hold.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was written by Robert Louis Stevenson, of Treasure Island fame. Born in Edinburgh in 1850, Stevenson renounced his presbyterian upbringing and instead embraced a bohemian lifestyle, becoming known for his substance abuse, long hair, velveteen jacket and unorthodox marriage. His health fluctuated, and he wrote of the battle between “myself” and “the other fellow”: “myself” being the rational elements of his psyche, and “the other fellow” his tempestuous creativity.

While some productions of Stevenson’s story focus primarily on Henry Jekyll / Edward Hyde’s deadly struggle, GSC adaptor Caroline Devlin takes a more rounded approach. Thus we see the effects of Jekyll’s terrible transformation on those around him: most notably his friend, Gabriel John Utterson, the lawyer who narrates the story, but also his butler, Mr Poole, and housekeeper, Mrs Hughes. Collings’ portrayal of Poole – a loyal servant placed in an impossible position – is moving and acute.

The action takes place in just one act – rightly, to maintain the ever-rising tension – and lasts around 70 minutes. GSC suggests its audience arrives early, to soak in the Victorian atmosphere of St Nicolas and perhaps to enjoy some wine and cheese.

The end of the play is abrupt and shocking and – like all good productions – leaves its audience wanting more.

Jekyll & Hyde runs until November 5. You can call the box office on 01483 304384 for tickets or book online here.

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