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Creation Theatre Company - Jekyll & Hyde

8th June to 6th July 2013.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Giving shelf space to murder

Creation Theatre bring classic gothic horror to Blackwell's Bookshop

Jekyll & Hyde, at Blackwell's Bookshop, Oxford, from Saturday, June 8 to Saturday, July 6

This is the year of Jekyll & Hyde. Following The Watermill's recent offering, Oxford's Creation Theatre Company brings Robert Louis Stevenson's classic gothic horror to Blackwell's Norrington Room. Having overcome its financial difficulties caused by last summer's atrocious weather, Creation has prudently downsized, being cautious with a one-man show.

As it did successfully with Lizzie Hopley, Creation has turned to one of its regular actresses, Caroline Devlin, to direct and write the adaptation. As the audience enters the shop, people walk through a maze of passageways to the performance space illuminated by low candle-lights. Devlin has immediately created the eerie atmosphere of gloomy London, any fear heightened by spooky sound effects. Playing just over an hour, the production takes place between shelves of, appropriately philosophy text books. The storyteller is another former Creation actor, Michael Palmer.

Stevenson wrote the 'fine boguey tale' as he described it, in 1885, having had a dream about a man who swallows a drug and becomes another person. Stevenson's biographer, Claire Harman, suggests that Jekyll & Hyde is about 'the secrets that respectability hides, and the pleasures of that deception'. Palmer brilliantly portrays this side of Dr Jekyll, a noted middle class professional drawn towards the dark side.

He plays all the parts, his characterisations coming to life with the aid of carefully placed props. Each of the characters is given a strong personality, the 'narrator' Utterson an urbane Scottish lawyer. Palmer skips and grins manically when Jekyll thinks he has pulled the wool over his fellow professional friends. The transformation scenes from Jekyll into the brutish Hyde are brilliantly conceived as Palmer twists and gnarls his body into the warped figure of the murderer. He does not need the special effects of American blockbusters to send shivers up the spine.

A strategically-placed speaker enables Palmer to engage in conversations whilst the audience's imagination does the hard work in conjuring up the other people. Special mention must be made of Ashley Bale's excellent lighting design which really makes the most of the hooks and crannies in the Norrington Room. This intimate production is strongly recommended.