The untold case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Production shot of Jekyll and Eleanor

With two excellent faithful gothic adaptations under their belt, Nick Lane’s adaptation of The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde looks like a third. But this time, there’s a big change, and it’s superbly done.

There’s been so much banging about Blackeyed Theatre lately, myself included, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is synonymous with the partnership of John Ginman and Eliot Giuralarocca, responsible for an excellent adaptation of Dracula and a superb adaptation of Frankenstein. In reality, that’s only a recent addition to Blackeyed’s catalogue. But in spite of a successful ongoing run of Teechers, it’s gothic horror where they’ve made a name for themselves. So, by accident or by design, they’ve embarked on a third tale, and after the two big classics, Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous tale of Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego Mr. Hyde seems like an obvious choice. However – good job though I’m sure they could have done –  it’s not Ginman and Giuralarocca in charge this time. Instead, it’s written and directed by Nick Lane.

Starting with the obvious difference: you don’t have the technique of dispensing with speakers and doing all sound on stage that made Dracula and Frankenstein so distinctive. Here, it’s back to the conventional sound system. Other than that, the staging is stylistically similar to before. But there is one big big big change which I suspect most of the audience were not aware of, and that is writing a completely new major character into the story. And not just a clumsily shoehorned love interest. The thing that makes this adaptation outstanding is that he makes it look like this is how the story was meant to be told all along.

Ike Award for outstanding theatre: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Blackeyed Theatre

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War of the Worlds: way up North

Production shot from War of the Worlds

I’m going to review this play a little differently to most of my reviews. Northern Stage’s War of the Worlds already has enough glowing reviews on the pile, and besides, the two-week sold out run says more than any review ever will. What interests me is that this was part of Northern Stage’s NORTH scheme. If you’ve not heard of this, you can safely ignore most of this review and enjoy the play for what it is, but if you want ot read on, this needs a bit of explaining. NORTH has been running since 2013, and each year they take on a group on aspiring actors and give them, amongst other things, a public production. They generally go to form their own groups afterwards, the most successful one being the inaugural year which is now the hugely-respected Letter Room.

The scheme has varied from year to year though, not least in what kind of production they do. Usually the NORTH members devise their own play, but in 2015 the intake instead played the ensemble roles in mainstream production Cyrano de Bergerac – and not everyone was happy about that. A complaint I’ve heard off the record (not from anyone in NORTH 2015, I should add) is that by getting this instead of a devised production, they never get a chance to show their own creativity. A secondary complaint was that they got caught up in a concept that didn’t work, but lack of their own production was the main thing. So now, fast forward to 2018, and once again, a NORTH ensemble take the stage in someone else’s production. This time they play the leads in a Stage 3 production rather than ensemble on the main stage, but once again, the success of a production is in someone else’s hands.

Luckily for them, that someone is Laura Lindow, who has penned a series of successful productions, the most recent one being the November Club’s Beyond the End of the Road. Together with director Elayce Ismail, it turns out, they couldn’t have wished for safer hands to be in. Continue reading

Lumiere London 2018 roundup

Lumiere London 2018 - 12
Litre of Light. Photo credit: Garry Knight

Before I get stuck into Vault festival reviews, there was the festival in London the month before. What started off a one-off festival on Durham, then become a bi-yearly fixture in Durham, and then branched out to a one-off in London, is now a regular fixture in London too. This is a theatre blog and a light festival blog so I won’t be giving a detailed critique of every single attraction, but as this is a Durham-based blog and this is Durham’s greatest cultural export, this deserved a mention here.

Let’s get started:

The bigger festival

After the inaugural Lumiere London of 2016, there were questions over whether it could return, not because it wasn’t popular enough, but because it was too popular. Crowding became a big problem, even causing the King’s Cross area to be closed on Saturday night. Not as bad as the infamous Lumiere Durham 2011, but every possibility that the next Lumiere London could be a repeat of this as the  festival grows in popularity. But the solution implemented in Durham – closing off the Penninsula to all but residents and ticket holders – must have been out of the question for central London. Continue reading


For Love or Money: Rutter’s farewell (for now?)

Barrie Rutter as Fuller

Blake Morrison does a good job updating a classic play against the high expectations set by Northern Broadsides, but Turcaret maybe wasn’t the best play to work out of its original setting.

Amongst the many strings Northern Broadsides have to their bows, including Shakespeare, classics and new writing, there are the modern adaptations of classic stories, most notably those of the legendary writer/director duo Deborah McAndrew and Conrad Nelson. So it must be double-edged sword adapting a classic play into a new setting for Northern Broadsides if you’re not Deborah McAndrew. On the one hand, they’ve helped build the reputation of Northern Broadsides, which nicely translates into a big audience draw for you. On the other hand, however, their reputation translates into insanely expectations for you to live up to. That’s something I wouldn’t envy anyone for. But this is a challenge long-time Broadsider Blake Morrison took up for Barrie Rutter’s swansong.*

(*: Fine print: This was Barrie Rutter’s last touring play whilst Artistic Director. This doesn’t count his last last play at the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse. And whatever people may say at the moment, I can’t believe it will be long before he’s acting and directing again.)

On the face of it, Tucaret looks like a natural choice for a new setting. Originally an 18th-century comedy, this is transplanted to early 20th-century Yorkshire. Rose is a young widow who has frittered away her fortune in spite of the efforts for her housekeeper Marlene (which very fitting added early 20th-century Yorkshire no-nonsense). She is courted by wealthy banker Fuller (Barrie Rutter, of course) – apparently naive at first, swiftly revealed to be shallow. However, Rose is more interested in the dashing but deceitful and dastardly Arthur, bleeding Rose dry of her money almost as fast as she can get it out of Fuller. However this setting worked in the original, it’s just as good here.

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Odds and sods: February 2018

In a rare twist of fate, I am getting my monthly roundup out on time. I did expect to be busy with lots of other things, but owing to the snow forcing the cancellation of pretty much everything, I have some free time for once. Let’s go:

Stuff that happened in February

The thing that caught my attention most in February was, of course, those silly people at Manchester Art Gallery who drew absurd parallels looking at a Victorian painting of nudey ladies and Harvey Weinstein going round raping everybody, took a painting down to Start A Debate™, and then ignored and dismissed the responses of the entire country (pretty much) telling them to fuck off (pretty much). I wrote at length about why you should worry about this, and a new tactic of censorship emerging in the arts, but I’m done with this for the time being. They are supposedly going to have A Series Of Debates™ this month – if, as I’ve expected all along, it’s a series of panels packed with yes men (and yes women), I’ll probably take the piss of of them further. In the incredibly unlikely event they they engage with criticism for a change, I will give them a chance. But I’m not holding my breath.

Apart from that, here were some other notable events for the month:

Latest from Brighton

With the close of Brighton Fringe registrations comes the annual ritual of seeing how many registrations there are. In recent years, the news of big increases has come with a big fanfare. However, this time, the publicity surrounding the launch kept quiet on this number, and – in line with the precedent of Edinburgh keeping quiet in years when the numbers flatline – it turned out there was a slight drop. It’s not clear what exactly what the numbers are this time, because the number of entries of the website seems to fluctuate, but the figure seems to be somewhere between 958 and 967, down slightly from last year’s peak of 970. Continue reading


The Wipers Times: forgotten heroes

The soldiers find a printing press

Ian Hislop and Nick Newman would be the first to agree that much of the credit for their play belongs with the writers of the satirical magazine. But it’s a worthy homage to a forgotten but important fight for freedom.

Comedy and World War One are two things you rarely find together. Great though plays such as Journey’s End and Birdsong are, they’re heavily themed on slaughter and misery and not exactly a barrel of laughs. Where you do get comedies, they tend to be cynical things of the style of Blackadder Goes Forth where chaps get sent charging into machine-gun fire with General Melchett types going “Jolly good show! I’ll see you get your Victoria Crosses.” Under such depictions, you’d be forgiven for thinking that jokes were cancelled from 1914 to 1918. But this is the backdrop to The Wipers’ Times, considered by many a predecessor to Private Eye.

Little wonder, then, that Ian Hislop would choose to champion this, first as a TV series, later as a play. But there is surely another reason why this story is so close to his heart. It was a very important victory for freedom of speech. 100 years earlier you could publish disrespectful cartoons of the ruling class that could get you killed in another country. In 1916, however, press freedom was a joke. Papers on the home front were little more than government propaganda outlets, giving absurdly optimistic accounts of the war and badgering everyone to sign up, alongside trivial stories about which outfits the landed gentry wore this week. The last place one would believe something off-message would be printed was on the Western Front, where insubordinate soldiers were often short-lived. But believe you must, for against all expectations it ran until the war ended. Continue reading