Chung Ying Theatre Company
1 - 10 May 2015
The Hong Kong Jockey Club Amphitheatre, HKAPA
We are all aware of Robert Louis Stevenson's story, Dr Jekyll experiments with a substance and turns into a hideous monster at night. In Jonathan Holloway's version Dr. Jekyll is a woman.
The setting is still Victorian London with a magnificent stage set reflecting the fact that it is being performed in Hong Kong. Stunning red silk lanterns were hung above the gothic room. The cast, a mixture of Chinese and English actors, and if I say everyone had a hint of Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton on Halloween I'm sure you'll understand the general vibe.
Performed in English with Chinese and English subtitles, I always find that slightly distracting but I understand their reasons, with dialogue packed with euphemisms about sex. Are all euphemisms about sex? "Would you like to open the petals of my purple orchid?" "Will your stamen enter my flower while still lubricated by another?" I may not have those quotes completely accurate but that was the gist of the lines. There were rather a lot of references to sex in the whole production, while not explicit, we couldn't have that in conservative Hong Kong now could we (we were in Wan Chai!).
In this version we see Dr. Jekyll as a woman, yet a scientist, the ONLY woman doctor in London at that time struggling to break the stereotype placed upon her gender, rebelling against conformity of marriage and family life, choosing to experiment alone in her explorations of substances and what-do-you-know she is quite the temptress. We see shadowy scenes through the opaque bathroom door of two bodies together, items of clothes being removed and illicit pleasure being had.
And so when 'she' becomes Hyde she becomes a man. In this persona, which isn't revealed until much later in the play, she is a lout, a violent rapist and we have to presume a transexual because of the comments about his/her ability to rape. Olivia Winteringham who plays Jekyll and Hyde is a slight woman and when she appears as the man, Hyde, she has blood stained bandages around her chest area eluding to her having sliced off her breasts? Well this is what you get with gothic literature.
I do question the power of this play to shock though, we already know the story and to put a woman as Jekyll as a tool to twist the plot seemed not enough of a shock in our 21st Century transgender sexual equality world. Perhaps a man dressed as a woman playing a woman as a man and then turning into a man played by a woman as a man would have made us think more. Oh hang on, Shakespeare has already done that!