Venue: Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
The Theatre Mill’s performance of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was most definitely an encompassing experience and one which certainly fulfilled my expectations. The setting (Merchant Adventurers’ Hall), the stage (the Hall’s cellars) and the actors were all what I hoped they would be and, as soon as I had departed from the Piccadilly bus stop, I was immersed within the world of Victorian London.
Even before entering Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, the performance had begun. As I approached, a young Victorian stopped me, warning me that it wasn’t safe to be out at night alone and that that place – the Hall – was cursed (‘I wouldn’t step foot in there if I were you!’). A traditional policemen soon broke up our encounter, taking our tickets and directing us towards the theatre area. A Victorian woman was then selling playbills just before the entrance and a clean-cut barman served us drinks. If you couldn’t tell by now, the place was pretty atmospheric. This was upheld throughout the evening, I felt it rather fitting – considering the Company had chosen such a beautifully historic building for their performance, it really brought the place to life.
The performance did well to match the atmosphere set before it had begun, although the opening was a little slow and the ending did seem to drag. Nevertheless, the main plot kept up a good pace. There was no need for many props, as the venue itself seemed to suffice. There were hanging bulbs dotted around, which were very effective, particularly when signifying a change in the time frame. Lighting and sound were an integral part of this production, and they were used particularly well. It was a rather dark production, however the apt use of singular spotlights allowed certain areas to be illuminated, maintaining visibility for the audience and heightening the eerie feeling within the room.
James Weaver (Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde) deserves praise for his arresting performance. His characterisation of Jekyll was achieved through his interesting physicality and his dark cynicism. When playing Hyde, the distinction was clear, and he allowed Jekyll’s alter-ego to dominate the stage, demanding the audience’s attention within every moment. There were times, however, in which Hyde’s vocalisation lost its dynamism, detracting from Weaver’s brilliant performance. However, considering the space in which he had to fill vocally, Weaver’s did deliver well.
Viktoria Kay (Eleanor Lanyon) also seemed to lack animation within her vocal performance. Her use of various accents was flawless, however her register forever seemed to be rather high and rather abrasive. Her portrayal of Eleanor certainly was fiery, however there was an absence of softness which would have complimented Eleanor’s boldness and allowed her character to be fully explored. Additionally, Kay’s torso remained rather static, resulting in her performance sometimes seeming awkward. Nevertheless, she did well to create three unique characters – Eleanor, Bradshaw (the housemaid) and Annie (the prostitute) – all of which kept the audience entertained.
Overall this was a production I would recommend seeing. Although elements of the performance itself were not outstanding, these can be overlooked considering the experience of the evening overall. As soon as you step foot into Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, the drama begins and you cannot help but enjoy yourself as you chat with the delivery boy, the bar fly or the senior housemaid. You instantly feel a part of Jekyll and Hyde’s world, allowing your excitement and terror to almost become real. You never know what to expect, or when Mr Hyde will next strike…