Theatre review: Jekyll & Hyde - gripping drama that makes you think

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 May, 2015, 6:05am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 May, 2015, 6:05am

Jekyll & Hyde

Chung Ying Theatre Company

Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts

Reviewed: May 1

It's been a while since this government-subsidised troupe staged anything of note. The 35-year-old bilingual company has, over the past decade, focused so much on Cantonese productions that it has lost its identity.

But its latest staging of an English adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde may just change that.

Roping in British playwright and director Jonathan Holloway, who previously collaborated with Chung Ying in its Cantonese staging of his version of Les Misérables in 2005, this production, featuring both local and British actors, promised to revive the company's bilingual tradition. It did not disappoint.

Jekyll & Hyde is a complex, multilayered and gripping drama that forces the audience to pause and think. For a start, its titular character is a woman. Instead of a straight retelling of this haunting 19th century tale of split personality, Holloway's imaginative interpretation explores the notion of absolute good and evil, the origin of Stevenson's novella, as well as the role of women in society.

His is a story within a story within a story. The play opens with two unidentified characters trapped inside a modern London warehouse with a dark history. Then we step back in time, to the 1920s, where a female publisher is being persuaded to buy the rights to a true story that is disturbing yet likely to make her rich. Then we get to the core of the drama about young lawyer Henry Utterson, who falls in love with Jekyll, a female research scientist (unusual in 1900), who has a mysterious cousin named Hyde.

The storytelling is intense but remains accessible, with some strong performances from the cast. Both Lan Chun-chun and Christopher Ying made their presence felt in their supporting roles. Michael Edwards and Graeme Rose, as Utterson and his friend Lawrence Enfield, pulled the audience into the story with their banter; while Olivia Winteringham was excellent in her dual title roles, seductive one minute and ruthlessly cruel the next.

Neil Irish's visually sumptuous set and costume successfully marry the Chinese and Gothic aesthetics.

Kevin Kwong

Until May 10