Bristol Theatre Reviews

Review: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Arnos Vale Cemetery Red Rope Theatre

Review: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Arnos Vale Cemetery Bristol

Friday 08 November 2019 at 7.30pm

The growing sense of unease in this production of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, fills the room like an almost inaudible hum from the moment it starts. It actually starts whilst the audience is being led by torchlight towards the imposing Anglican Chapel. The structure dominates the Victorian garden cemetery of Arnos Vale. Pale gravestones loom like watchers in the darkness, as in the distance we see a shadowy figure send a lady and baby to the ground.

An angry roar emerges, dragging us straight into the action. It’s from the enraged Utterson, buried deep within the group of approaching theatre goers. A small perambulator dashed to the ground, the wails of a baby thin in the night air come from the open mouth of the chapel doorway. Oliver Thomas’ deliciously sinister sounds fills the space as the audience takes their seats.

This is the fourth Gothic Horror Red Rope Theatre has staged at Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol. They know how to knock the audience off kilter from the start by immersing them in the action and utilising the natural space around them.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 Gothic novella has been adapted and written by Matt Grinter. The story is performed by a cast of three and as with the previous year’s Frankenstein, flips between action to move the story along and clever monologues inspiring introspection.

Each story the company has picked and adapted feels like an unmanned music box playing a solitary tune in an empty house that somehow reflects our own lives back at us.

Grinter’s adaptation of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is no exception. The story may be a product of the Victorian era, but throughout the evening it was also a reflection on our society. Vulnerability, picking off people who are different to ourselves, addiction, the darkness within, friendship and loyalty, how good people do bad things, repression.

Whilst Jekyll and Hyde has become a term to describe a person with an extreme split in personality, does Hyde finally take over or does the ‘good’ Jekyll win? As in life, the ultimate answer is not so simple and it hangs in the air at the end as Utterson takes in a series of letters.

Between Grinter’s writing and Rebecca Robson’s direction, the storytelling is focused and streamlined. Having a cast of three each time aids this. There is no space for frivolity and the result of this is a taut production.

Brad Morrison as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is genuinely terrifying. The likeable Dr Jekyll, who drinks brandy and plays chess with his friend, is charming intelligent man with a warm Scottish accent. As he becomes the bone-chilling Dr Hyde, the accent changes to British, with the dark chuckle and sneer of a 1970’s James Herbert character. It’s a clever device which highlights the Jekyll/Hyde battle at the end, as Morrison’s accent seamlessly flows from one dialect to the other.

It’s not an exaggeration to describe Morrison’s performance as terrifying. You could feel the intensity growing, the addictive pull of Hyde. The clammy hands and the tense fingers. Erratic behaviour. The pull of the eyes wandering towards the mirror, towards the battered old top hat and worn leather coat.

Heads or tails. The way Hyde toys with his victim before brutally murdering during an almost unbearable peak in the performance is edge of the seat stuff. Danann McAleer is the fight director. It’s no mean feat to pull off an attack like this when the audience is sat inches away.

Lois Grinter as Poole provides the splashes of humour throughout. It does not break the tension, instead, delivered with dry, deadpan wit.

Dan Gaisford is the pillar of respectability, loyalty and curiosity. He provides the perfect counterbalance through which to see Morrison’s increasing instability. As victim Mr Carew, he literally had his head kicked right in front of me and such was the slickness of the choreography and performance, I missed the trick. It was brutal.

Red Rope Theatre’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is an exceptional piece of theatre. It’s an expert adaptation of a well-worn story, bringing a fresh take with a chilling and gripping performance.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde will be at Arnos Vale Cemetery until Saturday 16 November 2019.

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