by Mkuu Amani
Photography by Steve Blower & Mkuu Amani
With Halloween just around the corner, what better way for The Fellowship Players to kick off their 75th season – than with nine most gripping and compelling performances of David Edgar’s brilliant adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic horror story?
From October 13 – 22nd, The Grange Playhouse in Walsall was the place to be – to see Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, with Dominic Holmes in the leading role(s) of Jekyll/Hyde, and Sam Evans as the ‘man of rugged countenance,’ and lawyer, Utterson.
Utterson (Sam Evans) (left), and Dr Jekyll (Dominic Holmes) in serious discussion.
Edgars’s re-telling of the Stephenson classic unfolds as a brutal and emotive affair not lacking in conflict, violence or horror.
It’s set in Victorian London, an era during which the UK capital, even with its smog filled skies and streets, was the biggest city in the world. A time during which one of England’s best known landmarks Big Ben was being constructed.
Yet also during which, in the same city — somewhat strangely by today’s standards, arsenic had become a must have beauty product and family photographs that included deceased members of the family was much more common place.
And, according to the Fellowship Players’ gripping portrayal of Edgar’s play — it was also a time during which the misplaced experiments of a respected Doctor unleashed upon the city, Edward Hyde – a ‘beast in human form.’
Jekyll flips to Beast Mode
Directed by Rebecca Holmes-Mears, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a tragedy that unfolds within the sometimes, somewhat airless confines of the hallways and private rooms of Jekyll’s self, friends and family, and amidst the shadows of the smog-ridden London streets which surround his abode.
Fresh from her recent performances in Dead Certain and Quartermaine’s Terms, Claire Parker joined the cast to play Dr Jekyll’s sister, Katherine Urquart. Her ill-fated parlour maid Annie was played by Stephanie Evans.
They were joined by Gabriel Campbell as Utterson’s ‘distant kinsman,’ Richard Enfield.
Backstage. Gabriel Campbell.
Neil Horne portrayed Dr Hastie Lanyon with Alan Lowe playing Jekyll’s most loyal and diligent Butler Mr Poole. Louise Vance and Zo Fryer were Katherine Urquhart’s lovably boisterous children Lucy and Charles.
Harry Parker and Kathryn Vance each appeared in dual roles, the former as Sir Danvers Carew and the Parson, with Kathryn Vance in the roles as a maid, and a passer-by.
Fellowship Players stalwart Dale Roberts also joined the cast, making a brief appearance as The Railway Guard.
Over the period of the run the much talented cast combined exquisitely to enable a multi-layered story which, under exploration, revealed elements of Dr Jekyll’s life not considered in many other of the classic story’s adaptations.
In this version, we get to find out that little bit more about what made Dr Jekyll the man he was, and consequently that little bit more about what formed and set free the beast within him.
Far from being troubled by the task of steering through the often rigorous seas of theatre production, the Fellowship Players clearly and vigorously embraced both the artistic and technical challenges that come with producing a twenty-three scene play; delivering in two fine acts, a horror story that will no doubt live long in the memory of those who were able to enjoy the company’s performances of it.
Totally enthralled I had to find out more about what it takes to bring a brilliant production such as this together, so when Director Rebecca Holmes-Mears agreed to an interview I leapt at the opportunity.
INTERVIEW with REBECCA HOLMES-MEARS
When did you become a Director, what was your first production and how did it go?
I had my first go at directing in 2018 with Arnold Ridley’s ‘The Ghost Train’.
I absolutely loved it! It was (and still is) incredibly nerve wracking taking on the challenge of directing because everything comes down to you and the choices you make.
I learned very quickly that you physically cannot do it alone, you need to be able to clearly articulate your vision and ideas to people with the skills to do the things you can’t. For example, I didn’t know the first thing about sound and lighting, but I did know what I wanted to create as the end effect, so I went in search of answers from people who would be able to help me.
Why the theatre? How did you get into it and what was your first theatre experience?
As children, my brother, sister and I were introduced to the theatre from a relatively young age, initially pantomime, then musicals and before you knew it, it was anything we could get to go and see.
Both our parents were involved in amateur dramatics as well so, it felt like a natural progression for us to love it as much as they do.
I vaguely remember our first full blown musical was Joseph and his amazing technicoloured dream coat with Philip Schofield at The Wolverhampton Grand, and we all loved it!
Of the plays you’ve seen, which are your three favourites?
Oh Wow, that’s a big question. Very difficult, I have loads of favourites because they all made me feel something different or mean something to me in some way. Stand out ones for me, would have to be:
Christmas Carol at the Old Vic, For me it was the very definition of creating something from nothing, the set was minimalist save for a selection of trunks and cases on stage, which were rearranged, with door frames set into the stage which lifted up at different points to denote different scenes. They had created a Victorian chorus of narrators with hand bells and other instruments to create the music. There were lanterns hanging from the ceiling, it was spectacular. The acting was just outstanding.
A Streetcar named Desire at the National Theatre – Gillian Anderson as Blanche was sheer genius. You felt every inch of the decline into madness from her, she was so fragile towards the end, your heart absolutely broke for her.
The Winslow Boy – national tour and film – this one is a sentimental one for me. And Katherine is on my parts I’m aching to play list. It is one of the many plays I was introduced to because of my Dad, this being a particular favourite of his and I just love it, not only for that but for the beautifully written characters and story but more importantly the deeper message of it all.
In film – do have a favourite director?
I don’t think I necessarily have a favourite director. I will sit and watch most things. I do go to films depending what mood I’m in. I do enjoy a lot of things from Tim Burton, particularly stop motion animation and I am also partial to ‘The cornetto trilogy’ as I am a huge fan of the TV series Spaced.
What attracted you to David Edgar’s Jekyll and Hyde adaptation?
I was attracted by the Story. I loved the fact that David Edgar had introduced two strong female characters, Annie and Katherine, who do not appear in the original book, had I not been directing it, I would love to have auditioned for Annie in particular because she had so many layers to her that we could explore.
Katherine Urquart (Claire Parker) discusses her father’s portrait
with her Parlour Maid Annie (Stephanie Evans).
I felt like the dialogue gave plenty of room for the actors to play. Particularly in rehearsal I saw how each actor delivered the same line in three different ways on occasion and each time, it altered the meaning and gave new dimensions to explore.
What are you hoping that audiences will take away from the performance?
I hope most of all that everyone who was involved/watched it, enjoyed it. That is why we do it after all. I hope that they felt immersed in our Victorian world without us needing to put everything onstage to show it was a hall/street/lab etc. And I hope that the audience are open to stripped back plays as they are becoming more prevalent and have the potential give lots of opportunity for creativity with less restrictions because of set requirements etc.
From the outside looking in, it all seems to have come together really well – but what have been the major challenges you’ve faced with this production?
Amateur Dramatics as a whole is a hobby at the end of the day which means it has to work around life, so trying to fit around such a large cast and crew was incredibly difficult and not something I had faced before.
I have to be honest and say the biggest challenge was trying to put together a workable set from my head, rather than having any diagrams in the script (which you often do have) to give you some indication of what goes where. The fellowship also have the issue of not being able to rehearse with the full set until a week before the performance, just as we have a two week window to put it up and get used to it. So I didn’t know whether it would work until it was too late to change it.
What have been the highlights?
The biggest highlight has been seeing how everyone has come together, there was an amazing camaraderie backstage which I loved to see. Its another reason I love the theatre because when you get a group of people who work so hard together to create something, it translates onto the stage and it is absolute magic to see.
There are so many Jekyll and Hyde adaptations in the world of stage and screen now. Which ones stand out to you and why?
I have to hold my hands up here and say that I haven’t watched any other adaptations of the story. I have read the book and loved it and seen snippets of the hammer horror styles of story. But I’ve not watched one all the way through. Yet. I do intend to remedy that now I have a little time to actually do it!
Have you tried to incorporate anything from the adaptations you’ve seen, into the look and feel of your own production? If yes, tell me more about that.
I purposefully tried to avoid watching how anyone else did it, so that I didn’t firstly have a panic attack about being able to do it and secondly, and more importantly, I didn’t want to create a carbon copy of what people had seen before because that’s ‘what works, although I did to a bit of image searching to see what different ways we could possibly do the transformation scenes, I had many discussions with Dominic and my mentors regarding face paints and at one point prosthetics but ultimately, letting Dom work his magic was the best outcome as it gave him no restrictions in facial expression or movement.
Is horror your genre of choice?
Horror, not so much, I like costumes, I do love a gothic tale, there is something exciting about telling stories by lamp light or elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen, telling scary stories of ghosts or monsters, or that moment when Sherlock Holmes enters in his deer stalker to solve what looks to be an impossible crime.
What has it been like working with the cast and crew for this production?
Its been weird, wonderful, bizarre and brilliant. Everyone has thrown so much into it that I wouldn’t like to single anyone out because it has been a massive team effort and I hope that I get the chance to work with everyone again. If you all let me!
What next for you as a director? Or is it too early to say?
There are so many things I would love to do, I would probably say I’m going to leave the multisets to others for a bit, I’m happy that I gave it a go for this one as it was something I had never done before but I don’t think I’m quite ready for something quite that big right now.
What advice would you offer to anyone considering becoming a director?
Give it a go, remember that you are not on your own. There is a wealth of skill and talent around you so ask for help if you need it.
Anything else to add?
Thank you for asking me to answer these questions, it has been a nice way to review the experience and think about what worked and what I would change.
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