Jekyll and Hyde

James Bowden

Actor James Bowden as a latter-day Jekyll and Hyde. Unfortunately he repeatedly forgot his lines

Jekyll and Hyde - Doppleganger Productions -  The Shelley Theatre, Bournemouth (14th December, 2014)

I first saw this intriguing but troubled play a couple of years ago. I had problems with it then and sadly (for somewhat different reasons) I have again now - it's a shame. Playwright John Foster’s fascinating contemporary analysis of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of good verses evil has a great deal going for it. It’s an intriguing subject and, in the main, a clever piece of writing. Back in 2012 I felt it struggled, failing to square its own complexities with the limits of its budget.

This latest production has dealt with at least some of those problems. It conveys, I feel, a better overall sense of the story which focuses on a present day London-based criminologist Dr Harriet Jekyll whose research into the psychotic mind gradually consumes and destroys her. It even has the advantage of being performed in Boscombe’s marvellously atmospheric  Shelley Theatre – a venue frequented back in the late nineteenth century by Robert Louis Stevenson himself.

Sadly for reasons that I may not fully understand, James Bowden the actor playing Edward Hyde – the evil and controlling alter-ego who gradually turns Jekyll into a psychotic killer – simply could not remember his lines. Though he appeared to be performing with confidence and had clearly got the measure of his character, he made countless calls for prompts. Maybe a dozen or more in the first act alone. The answers, often coming from two different directions at the same time, fatally disrupted the flow of the drama. He rallied in the second half (far fewer memory blanks), but it was by then too late. Quite a number of audience members failed to reappear after the interval - such a shame! This play offers an interesting Post-Freudian re-examination of the central theme of Stevenson’s novella – written right here in Bournemouth in 1886. Its run at Shelley Theatre should have been a landmark production, particularly as it featured some fine acting.

There were stand-out performances too  from Hermione Halpin as Jekyll, Hannaj Bang Bendz as her pyscho-killer patient and Russell Biles as her psychiatrist Dan Carew. Ironically the hapless Mr Bowden also turned in a powerful and brooding performance as Hyde. Why oh why didn’t he just read from the book? It would have been far less disruptive.

Jeremy Miles

© Jeremy Miles 2015