The first observation, and not from a production point, is how neat this adaptation of the story is by Noah Smith. It keeps the mysterious world of Dr Jekyll and his experimental attempts of unlocking his dark side but also fleshes out the world around him. We have two incorporated narrators, Shelly and Stoker (no prizes for guessing where those names came from, and simply Maid and Butler in the original Smith version), who give us locations and inner thoughts as well as scene changing. They are very much the unnamed narrator of the original embodied. Also while we have the standard "Three Musketeers" of Lanyon, Utterson, and Jekyll himself, the character of Enfield is fleshed out far beyond the original, and with his new lady, Helen O'Neill becomes integral to this new adaptation. It really is for me, a clever adaptation.
However, what of the production? Here, we have a wonderfully standard village am-dram production, where you won't see awards abound, but you will see an immense enthusiasm on display. This is grass roots theatre, where the creation of theatre is the joy. Like other groups smaller groups I have seen before, they don't always have the spit and polish of others, but this is made up by the clear love of the performers and crew to create the theatre in the first place.
Having said that, there are some nice performances. Holding the glue together as narrators are two lively little offerings from Rebecca Mackenzie (Shelly) and Stewart Magrath (Stoker). They have a challenging role as those narrators and set changes (more on that later), but handle it all mostly successfully. They also represent part of what makes this look a great production as well, with smart and stylish Steampunk costumes. The characters also make quite a play of Enfield's "Story of the door", which keeps the audience happy, and does have a final nice payoff.
Mark Collier likewise lives up mostly to the challenge of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It's a heck of a role to try to perform on stage, and for me, he gets the calm, and relaxed Jekyll perfectly, sporting an added injured arm, and very dodgy wig to help with the transformation. This is wisely kept subtle and dispenses with any comic teeth or hideous other options. I felt that his Hyde became a little too shouty at times, in a sort of hyper Danny Dyer way, where a more subtle menace might have been more effective. He does though throw himself into the role physically very well.
Elsewhere Frances Johns, in the kindest way, looks the part as Cybel, a lady of entertainment, and does a pretty fine apples and pears accent. Also sporting an accurate American accent is Zoë McLean as Helen O'Neill, McClean I have seen a few times previously in musicals with the Youth Theatre at Royal & Derngate, so it was nice to see her in a none musical performance here.
Staging is functional for the most part, although curiously there are a few moments that represent both over and under direction. The opening scene, for instance, is very static, with the three gentlemen simply sitting talking for some time, this is made more awkward when Enfield arrives with O'Neill, as they all stand and don't move, and as a result from my seat, I didn't see Enfield for the whole scene, hidden as he was behind Lanyon.
The over direction part occasionally comes from a little too much movement of the set between scenes. I couldn't help but think with our narrators explaining every scene locations, some of the more elaborate movements could have been downscaled a little. I also didn't like that occasionally other characters did get involved in moving some of the scenes, which tended to break the feeling that our narrators were the guiding force of the scene. Lighting was being a little mischievous on opening night as well, clearly missing a few of the switches to narrators, especially, and clearly changing within scenes incorrectly. I liked the switching off of the lights scene though by Jekyll.
However, if much of this sounds like a downer, it shouldn't be seen as such. This is an entertaining evening, with enough going for it to warrant seeing. It's a neat reworking, well put together, and performed in an impressive venue. It's vital to support groups like this, as for many a famous performer now, these are the groups were it all started.
Performance reviewed: Thursday 10th May 2018.
The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde runs at the Hackleton Village Hall, Hackleton until Saturday 12th May 2018.
For full details of the Group Eight visit their website at http://groupeight.co.uk/