Murdering Doctor Jekyll Has Sex Change for Gothic Drama

Physician Henry Jekyll is back in London. The bodies are piling up. The police are baffled.

The good doctor has been moved from posh Cavendish Square to the dark back alleys south of the river Thames for a starring role in a new production, aptly at the Southwark Playhouse.

Jonathan Holloway’s dramatization of the Robert Louis Stevenson novella has an even bigger twist. It’s no plot spoiler to give it away, because you can guess from the posters.

Tajemnica Jekyll is a woman. She is concocting a drug to turn herself into a man. Jekyll has moved from an unspecified country to kick over every social and sexy boundary she can see.

As far-fetched as this plot may be, it sounds a clever way to explore gender identity, women’s role in society and schizophrenia. The show, by Flipping the Bird theater company, had a sellout run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Cristina Catalina turns Jekyll into a chameleon preying on both sexes. Michael Edwards does his best as Utterson, who is her lawyer and lover. The clever set by Joanna Scotcher, coupled with Joshua Carr’s moody lighting and bursts of song, conveys foggy terror in a gothic hellhole.

Why are Jekyll and Hyde never seen together? Is Hyde a blackmailer or friend? Why is their handwriting so similar? They seem like two sides of the same coin. The familiar plot becomes ever more twisted as the play goes on.

The actors constantly try to shock and end up sweating so much that their white face paint is running. It ends with a cliched line that maybe the whole thing was just a dream.

While director Jessica Edwards and Holloway -- who won a Fringe First award -- are names to watch, this show crams in too much experimentation. Maybe next time. Rating: **.

“Jekyll & Hyde” is at the Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, SE1 6BD through Oct. 19. Information:

What the Stars Mean:
 *****      Exceptional
 ****       Excellent
 ***        Good
 **         So-so
 *          Mediocre
(No stars) Poor

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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