No less a figure than Inspector Rebus
creator Ian Rankin once insisted that the only author to ever “nail” Edinburgh was Robert Louis Stevenson
in his classic 1886 novella,
By switching her focus to a female Jekyll, Pearson is able to make a real point about the physical and misogynistic “corsets” which women of the time were forced to endure.
This is one aspect which writer Morna Pearson immediately rectifies in her reimagining of Stevenson’s tale for Lung Ha Theatre Company and Drake Music Scotland. The reason is as obvious as Becky Minto’s beautifully stark silhouette set; it successfully evokes the distinct architectural contrasts between the city’s prosperous but uptight Georgian New Town and the chaotic tenement poverty of the Old. Pearson goes further, though; Stevenson’s old bachelor Dr Jekyll (a remarkably restrained Stephan Tait) is now married with two children; and it is his daughter, Miriam, who is the focus of this tale.
Pearson also intelligently opts to focus on an often-overlooked aspect of the original – the fact that the good doctor had been struggling against the restraints of Victorian decorum long before he used chemistry to free his inner Mr Hyde. By switching her focus to a female Jekyll, Pearson is able to make a real point about the physical and misogynistic “corsets” which women of the time were forced to endure.
Emma McCaffrey is excellent as Miriam; yet she’s also a confident enough performer to give Mark Howie (as her brother William) the necessary space to show off his innate talent for landing a punchline. That’s the first of two unexpected aspects of this retelling of Stevenson’s tale; at times it’s genuinely, and quite deliberately, funny. This doesn’t mean it can’t still be serious and chilling when it needs to be – the decision to represent Hyde as a silent veiled “Woman in Black”, mirroring Miriam’s movements, is at times disturbing – but Pearson is experienced enough with Lung Ha Theatre Company to make use of the cast’s talent for humour rather than trying to fight against it.
Secondly, and even more significantly, Pearson turns Stevenson’s arguably somewhat dour, Presbyterian tale into an unexpectedly optimistic one; if nothing else, this certainly fits perfectly with the aims of two artistic organisations which give disabled people of all ages opportunities in which to express themselves creatively.
Director Caitlin Skinner definitely gets the best out of her many performers and creates a real sense of vivid city life in those regular moments when the whole cast of some 20 performers are on stage. Yet a major tool in her kit is the contribution made by the Drake Music Scotland performers positioned towards the back of the stage; under the guidance of the show’s composer Greg Sinclair, their aural contribution is absolutely fundamental to the atmosphere and drama of the story.
A few line drys not-withstanding, this is a clever, complex and ably presented production which, in terms of its quality, truly merits its place on the stages of two of Scotland’s top producing theatres.