Review: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Arnos Vale Cemetery
On Friday night I found myself walking past gravestones in pitch darkness as I made my way to watch the latest Red Rope Theatre production taking place at Arnos Vale Cemetery in South Bristol. It was my first time watching a show from this Bristol based company which was established in 2012, although Jekyll and Hyde is their eighth production and their fourth gothic horror at Arnos Vale, following three previous sell-out shows.
There could not be a better environment in which to set the tone, as the audience is asked to meet at the cafe before walking together to the Anglican Chapel where the performance is held. The performance starts during the torch-lit walk (I won't spoil the surprise) but keep an eye out both in front and behind you as you are immersed in the action almost immediately, before somewhat nervously entering the venue. As seats are taken in the audience, Oliver Thomas's suitably eerie music sets the scene for the evening ahead.
The 19th century chapel is an intimate setting and the spooky atmosphere is perfect for this re-telling of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 gothic novella, adapted brilliantly by award-winning writer Matt Grinter. Actor Brad Morrison plays both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and due to the closeness of the audience to the actors, it is possible to see every grimace and every evil glare on his face as he struggles with his addictions and his attempts to control his darker nature from taking over. It is a truly intense and electrifying performance, as he changes from the affable Scottish Dr Jekyll to a terrifying, sneering English Mr Hyde, who becomes more confident, more visible, and ever more evil as the evening progresses.
There is a palpable growing sense of unease running throughout the entire production, as the audience begins to share the concerns of lawyer Utterson, played by Dan Gaisford. He is the perfect Victorian gentleman and a reserved companion to the brilliant yet erratic Dr Jekyll. There was a real chemistry in the men's many scenes together, with both also moving the production along effortlessly with superb monologues. Lois Grinter plays Poole, Dr Jekyll's faithful man servant, as a really likeable character with a dry wit and a never-ending concern for his master.
With a cast of just these three actors, Gaisford and Grinter are also called upon to portray Mr Carew and Annie respectively. Both of these characters are on the receiving end of violence from Mr Hyde. There is a particularly chilling edge of the seat scene featuring Mr Hyde and Mr Carew involving a game of heads or tails where there is only ever going to be one winner. The audience just has to wait to see how horrific the ending turns out to be. It was extremely well choreographed by fight director Danann McAleer as we are left in no doubt to Mr Carew's gruesome fate - the fact the action happens mere inches from the audience just makes it feel all the more disturbing.
As the performance ended with Utterson reading a letter from Jekyll, before the actors made their way out into the dark night as quickly as they'd arrived, the audience was left to ponder those all important philosophical questions. Who are we really? And what would we do if we could get away with it? Would we behave differently if there were no consequences to our actions, if we had no conscience, and didn't worry about feeling shame? There are no definite answers of course, but in today's social media driven society, the questions posed by Robert Louis Stevenson over 130 years ago seem just as pertinent as ever.
Verdict: This was a brilliant production, with an extremely talented cast, slick direction, and a suitably atmospheric venue. It's easily one of the best pieces of theatre I've seen in Bristol this year. I'm already looking forward to Red Rope's next adaptation (they might just have converted me into a gothic horror fan!)
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde runs until 16th November. Running time 1 hour 25 minutes. Age recommendation 14 years plus. Book tickets via Wriggle here.
Disclaimer: I was offered two complimentary tickets in return for an honest review. All thoughts are my own. Promotional photo was provided by the production company. The photo of the chapel is my own.