Personal trauma inspired unique take of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
- Credit: Archant
After being injured in a car accident Nick Lane was inspired to adapt Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Now his unique production is coming to Bury St Edmunds and Holt.
When he was 26, Nick Lane was involved in a car accident, which left him physically debilitated. His life circumstances have provided the inspiration for a new adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
'I wondered, if someone offered me a potion that was guaranteed to make me feel the way I did before the accident, but with the side effect that I'd become ruthless and horrible – would I drink it?' said Nick who has adapted and directed his own unique take on the classic Gothic horror story.
'Would I make that trade? If I knew I could do it for a day then I suppose I might, but what if the feeling of being strong and healthy became an addiction?'
Combining ensemble story-telling, physical theatre, movement and Lane's razor-sharp script, alongside a new musical score by Tristan Parkes, the production from Blackeyed Theatre remains true to the spirit and theme of the original novella, but with one or two surprises.
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Nick's take on Dr Jekyll is as a physically impaired man seeking a cure through neuro-science. However, the cure he discovers also unearths the darkest part of his psyche.
'Jekyll is a medical man, so I've gone down the route of looking at why Jekyll is exploring the ability to split the mind. In the book, Jekyll is just fascinated by his own nature; he wants to look at why good is good and evil is evil within him,' said Nick.
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'What I wondered was, what if Jekyll was looking at splitting the mind to perhaps find a cure for schizophrenia or any other mental disorder? You have to remain true to the source material and in particular the spirit, themes and drive that the author of the source material wants to explore.'
Another notable feature of his adaptation is the addition of a major female character, Eleanor Lanyon, who doesn't appear in the original story.
'The novel doesn't have a character called Eleanor; the women in the novel seem very functional at best. Stevenson was writing for a man's world, his novels are very male dominated. Yet one of the biggest inspirations and motivators for his work was his wife. She pushed him to create; she was his harshest critic, his fiercest editor and his most strident advocate.
'I think that that's in part where I got Eleanor from. Her character serves as a catalyst. She gives him a reason to continue.
'There's also Annie who is a prostitute character, who is very important for her socio political positioning. Eleanor is an Irish immigrant, so she is from the working classes, like Annie.
'Victorian society was deeply entrenched with the class system and lines were recognisably drawn. To have a working class character enter into that world, gives the audience a sense of that division.'
Nick first adapted The Strange case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde in 2012 for Hull Truck Theatre, where he was associate director and literary manager from 2006 to 2014.
For this production, he has rewritten that version, increasing the cast from three to four with Jack Bannell playing Jekyll and Hyde.
'In the book Jekyll and Hyde are described as two different people, but generally adaptations have the same actor playing them,' said Nick. 'I was given the option of what I wanted to adapt knowing the cast would be this size. I thought it would be nice to look at this story from a medical and philanthropic angle and to use multi-rolling to our advantage because Jekyll and Hyde is the original multirole.'
Nick remained keen to set the book in the era it was originally written in. Was that a conscious decision or did he not want to make a modern adaptation?
'I think the themes are strong enough to transcend any particular period so I thought it was natural to stay faithful to Stevenson's vision,' he says. 'There is a slight shift – Stevenson wrote the book in the 1880s, but doesn't specify what years of the 19th century the story covers.
'This play is set in the 1890s, simply because at that time a lot of interesting historical events which I felt I could draw on were taking place. That particular era was also regarded by many as the birth of modern neuroscience so I've placed Jekyll amongst genuine experts in that field, as if he too were a pioneer – albeit a very twisted one with results that were more than he bargained for.'
The first adaptation of the book for stage took place less than a year after publication and 131 years later, the novel is still inspiring theatrical performances. What is it about the story that lends itself well to staging?
'It's a book with a number of very strong themes and a gripping mystery,' said Nick. 'It's a fun story to create onstage, because you can explode it. You can add to it while staying true to Stevenson's narrative. I think that's why the story has persevered.'
• The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde is at Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on September 26, 7.30pm, and September 27, 2pm, 7.30pm, £21.50-£8.50, 01284 769505, theatreroyal.org• It will also be at Auden Theatre, Holt, Norfolk, on September 29, 7.30pm, £10 (£8 cons), 01263 713444, audentheatre.co.uk • It comes to Norwich Playhouse on October 9-10, various times, £14 (£12 cons), £8.50 students, 01603 598598, norwichplayhouse.co.uk