Adapted and directed by Doctor Who legend Nicholas Briggs, Jekyll And Hyde – the latest theatrical production to focus on Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic horror classic – stars Neil Roberts (Holby City, Emmerdale), Gary Turner (Emmerdale) and Kim Taylforth (London’s Burning, Bad Girls). We spoke to Briggs about the process of bringing his vision to the stage…
How did you come to adapt this story?
I was asked to do it by Nottingham Theatre Royal in 2014. They wanted to have something gothic and Victorian for their 2015 season, so they suggested Jekyll And Hyde. I read it and loved the book. I’d never read it before. I immediately saw potential for it to be adapted, not least because I hadn’t recalled seeing an adaptation that seriously resembled the story in the book.
How long was the process of adapting the story into a play?
It would have been in total about a year, but that wasn’t a year’s solid work. Two things immediately occurred to me: the protagonist isn’t Jekyll; it’s actually about Gabriel Utterson. The other thing that really became clear was that you absolutely should have two people playing the part [of Jekyll and Hyde]. The whole point of it is that he was trying to create a different person.
Essentially Hyde is a different human being. Then I saw the character of Inspector Newcomen. I thought, “How about after the murder of Sir Danvers Carew, Newcomen’s on the case and he finds the letter that Carew had which was going to be sent to Utterson, and gets him in to talk to him about it?”. All the stuff that Gabriel’s first-person narration talks about in the book, but I’m able to do it with an interrogation.
How beholden were you to Stevenson’s vision?
I wanted to be as faithful as possible. The interesting thing is that the whole thing is written with the idea in mind that the readers will never guess, but the only thing we know about Jekyll And Hyde is that it’s about a man who changes from good to bad. That’s something I had to change immediately. It’s not going to be a surprise to anyone, is it? It’s a question of how you tell the story.
I think that what we all misunderstand is that we think stories are about what happens next, but actually what really keeps us engaged in stories is how the story is told. I know the Bismarck gets sunk, but it doesn’t stop me watching the movie!
How open are you to pastiche of the melodrama? Do you embrace the dark comedy of it or do you play it dead straight?
It’s played dead straight. I spoke to the actors a lot about it, particularly Neil Roberts, who plays Utterson. He worked very hard on this thing of how disturbed he was. What you’re watching is people having almost-breakdowns because of their contact with Hyde.
I changed Jekyll’s butler Poole to a Mrs Poole – I just wanted to get some female faces in there! – and when she is relating the story about what she saw through the door once when she was trying to help her master, I have her collapse.Someone is telling a story that is so against everything that is good in human nature that the retelling of it makes them ill. Having said that, I did put two jokes in!
Why do you think the Jekyll And Hyde story is so enduring?
Well, not to sound ultra-pretentious, it’s the question we ask ourselves every day – am I good, am I bad? We all do. That’s why it’s relevant because we’ve all wondered about it. Of course you’re a mixture of the two, and that’s what Jekyll’s obsession was. In the book he actually wants to split a human being physically into two people…with chemical tinctures!
The mistake he made was that he just transforms from one to the other, and then of course the transformation became uncontrollable. We’re fascinated by the potential for evil in us, or just bad behaviour. A few drinks down the line, the bad behaviour starts. That’s why it’s an enduring theme. We all want a binary solution and the truth of the matter is that’s impossible. In the play it’s impossible because it leads to death!