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Jekyll & Hyde

by on 14 October 2022

Hyde and Seek

Jekyll & Hyde

by Gary McNair, based Robert Louis Stevenson

Reading Rep at Reading Rep Theatre until 29th October

Review by Nick Swyft

“I am not the good guy!” Audrey Brisson starts.  “But you’re going to like me.”  This is the keystone of the play, and while it is hard to like the character of Hyde, that wasn’t really the point.  Very few of us are the good guys, yet we still like ourselves (mostly)!

Reading Rep Theatre have had quite a coup in staging the world premiere production of Jekyll & Hyde Gary McNair’s quirkily comic adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic gothic novella, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

“Comic?”, you say; isn’t it a deeply psychological horror story?

You may be right, but McNair has achieved an unlikely mix of horror and humour that is truly gripping.  He has peeled open Dr Jekyll’s mind to find the convolutions he makes to hide his dark secrets … perhaps just like us good guys.

But the second coup is getting Olivier and Grammy award-nominated Audrey Brisson to star in this show.  French-Canadian Brisson is renowned as a singer, an actress, an aerialist and more across many theatre genres.   She is fresh from Terry Gillam’s take on Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods at Theatre Royal Bath, where she made quite a hit playing a rather different Cinderella.

Brisson made her entrance via a side door at the back of the stage, and as soon as they saw her the audience fell strangely silent.  Everyone was expectant, knowing knew who she was.  I saw her some time ago when she performed in the Cirque du Soleil’s Quidam.  (She was flying around in mid-air and I’m afraid the makeup confused me, as I didn’t immediately recall.)

There were no other performers in this production, which for a play like Jekyll & Hyde is a tall order for any actor.  Indeed, I spent the first twenty minutes or so wondering why Reading Rep hadn’t hired other performers as it is such a wide-ranging story.  But there was no need.  Still all the best stories start out leaving the listener wondering how this is going to pan out, and soon the double handing of different parts stopped being a worry.   I doubt that many other actors could have carried this off quite so well.  By the end of the play I was totally hooked, and the dramatic final scene sent genuine shivers down my spine.

The third coup is teaming Brisson with RSC director Michael Fentiman, a well proven partnership that has netted Olivier and Grammy nominations for them both, notably in Amélie, which ran in the West End and on a national tour including an extended season at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury.

Brisson’s excellent one-person performance was a tour de force, was matched by the delivery of the production team.  Production designer Max Jones’ mood-perfect set was enhanced by Emily Irish’s lighting and Richard Hammarton’s sound.  Between them they provided a concise setting that conjured the sinister atmosphere of the time, extracting its very sparseness to great effect.  The timing of the various effects was flawless.

To my mind this production is up there with the best that London theatres can provide, and it shows how Reading Rep has gone from strength to strength and now provides the very best of theatre in Reading Rep: 10, its tenth anniversary season.   Nevertheless, Jekyll & Hyde only runs until the end of the month and my advice is to drop everything and go and see it before it closes.

Nick Swyft, October 2022

Photography by Harry Elletson

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