Modernised tale of our actions and outcomes

14th March 2008 at 00:00
Donald Smith's stage adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is nothing if not contemporary. Among other issues, it raises questions about drugs and alcohol abuse which might be expected in a production designed to tour secondary schools.

But the show is far from being a cut-and-dried issue-based drama, intended simply to provoke discussions about health and social matters among pupils and teachers.

Smith's 45-minute play Jekyll and Hyde: A Specimen takes as its starting point the genesis of Stevenson's story and focuses on Henry Jekyll's upbringing and medical training. But this "specimen" is not a case of the "good" doctor being led astray by the "bad" Hyde in foggy Victorian Edinburgh. This is a contemporary Edinburgh where a morally dubious, ambitious and hypocritical young Jekyll has become involved in animal experiments and his brutal alter ego haunts the student pubs of the Cowgate.

The story deftly explores how we, as adolescents or formative adults, go about constructing our identities: our private self-images and the public faces we (learn to) project.

It is as much about psychological experimentation as about scientific hubris; and it eschews the shilling shocker approach - cellars, mysterious alchemies and grimaced transformations - for a lighter, sometimes comic approach, which invites the audience to go on a journey with two actors who play a host of roles.

The production could be said to deconstruct a classic story to engage a young contemporary audience, but its virtue is much simpler and more telling: it sets questions about decisions and their consequences, about ambitions and lifestyles and about relationships and honesty.

Engagingly performed by Duncan Edwards and Gavin Paul, who establish an immediate rapport with the audience, the play makes for an excellent stimulus to reading the book itself. It is also an entertaining and thought-provoking piece of theatre.

Presented as part of One Book - One Edinburgh, the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust's annual reading campaign, Jekyll and Hyde: A Specimen will be revived in August as a Fringe production at the Scottish Story Telling Centre.

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