As left-wing playwright David Edgar brings R. L. Stevenson’s masterpiece Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde to the stage in Edinburgh, he tells Andrew Burnet about its relevance
for the modern socialist.
It was a time of thunder and lightning. A time for mischief and melodrama. Darwin. Freud and Marx had laid seige to established beliefs. and God seetned to turn His back. Monsters were born — a European count who could live forever on human blood; a young doctor whose experiments transformed him into a savage killer. Written in 1885. The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde was very much of its
period, yet the tale still resonates today.
‘lt struck me increasingly that the three great horror myths — Frankenstein. Dracula and Jekyll And Hyde - share a common action. which is about the man who attempts to play God.’ remarks David Edgar. whose stage version of Stevenson‘s creepy classic opens this fortnight at Edinburgh‘s Royal Lyceum. ‘To do so. he must put the most important part of his life away from the gaze of his friends. it seems to me the novel is about the failure of male function — it’s about bachelors who view themselves as close friends but don‘t know what is happening in each other‘s
Since emerging in the early 70s as a leading left- wing playwright. Edgar has charted the fortunes and decline of socialism. He believes that ‘the end-of-
David Edgar: grappling with evil
communism plays must now be over.‘ but Jekyll And Hyde does not mark an abandonment of political sensibilities. ‘l am very interested in wickedness and the way it‘s been constructed.‘ he says. ‘lt‘s a subject which is obsessing people. and about which people are making huge mistakes — evil is being revived as a notion. which is basically a way of distancing that behaviour from us. saying it‘s nothing to do with us.‘ in a conversation that covers Thomas Hamilton. Dennis Nilsen and Fred West. Edgar — a tall. well- spoken 49-year-old with a thoughtful manner and a gentle sense of humour — grapples with the politics of
wickedness and society‘s attitude to it. ‘The play is quite strongly and deliberately arguing that evil is an absence — it‘s a failure ofempathy.‘ he says. ‘The two little boys who murdered .latnic Bulger didn‘t understand that a two-year-old was a human being. They turned him into a plaything and broke it. And clearly there is a massive failure ol'empathy involved in that.‘
Edgar abhors society‘s kneejerk game of ‘Hunt The Guilty Video‘ when evil rears its head. His own ‘vast collection of Nazi literature‘. he argues. is no indication of fascist leanings. Moreover. he sees books, ﬁlms. plays. even television as vital influences. ‘One of the really important and central ways you learn empathy is through ﬁction. because that‘s how you get to know the inside of people‘s heads who aren‘t you.‘ he says.
Edgar chose Jekyll And Hyde as ‘the greatest work by the greatest l9th century Scottish novelist'. A reworking of his l99l script for the Royal Shakespeare Company (for which he also wrote the hugely successful adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby) the new version casts a single actor as both Jekyll and Hyde. Although it‘s closer to Stevenson than most adaptations. Edgar (lid not feel any purist obligations. ‘l‘m notjust adapting the novel.‘ he says. ‘l‘m also adapting the ﬁlms. which is how people know it. It became a myth and so it ceases to belong to Stevenson.‘
But on one level. no-one can match the effect of Stevenson‘s bestselling book on contemporary readers. ‘lf you were a Victorian reader. reading it hot off the presses. you wouldn‘t know that Jekyll and Hyde were the same person until very close to the end.‘ Edgar points out. ‘lt would have been the most extraordinary shock. But of course it scored the own- goal. because it immediately became a myth and the one thing that everybody knows is that they‘re the same person.‘
Dr Jekyll rind Mr Hyde. Royal Lyceum Theatre. Edinburgh. Fri IOJun—Sat / Feb.
For a bunch of short-hair ’n’ vest- wearing, trendy-ish, twentysomethlng dancers, london-based independent company Ricochet have some pretty old-skool idols.
Think 70s. Think flares and sneakers. Think Trisha Brown, the all- American hippy chick who trashed traditions, stripped dance back to basics and discovered the cool (at least it was then) beauty of minimalism.
So why no urban, angry physical theatre for Ricochet? Why no body ’n’ brain-bashing 90s Eurocrash? “Trisha Brown had certain principles,’ says company member Kate Gowar. ‘And
these principles never really wear out.’
directors to commission
Britain,’ says Gowar.
Democracy In motion: Ricochet Dance Company
Retro dance styles can look dated - think of disco - unless of course you re-invent them. Thankfully, Ricochet does lust that, taking Brown’s fundamental less-ls-more rule and filtering it through a late-90$ lens. The result is a sharper, sleeker, hipper minimalism that falls neatly into line with the trimmed-down cool of London’s thriving independent
There is one thing that really does make Ricochet stand out from the capital’s trendy dance crowd. While other companies have artistic
choreographers, muscians and designers, this lot do it themselves. Bemocratically. And, incredibly, it works. “I’m pretty sure we’re the only dancer-led company working in
Ricochet’s latest triumph of democracy has led to the creation of a double-bill: their second collaboration with British-based Peruvian .lavier de Frutos; and their Jan.
first with thoroughly English Rosemary lee. De Frutos’s piece features costumes by Ursula Bombshell which Gowar says are ‘explosive’. Tee hee.
lle Frutos is famous (in dance circles) for getting his kit off on stage; Lee is famous (in dance circles) for being one of the most enduring and quietly creative of Britain’s choreographer/improvisers and Bombshell is known for groovy club/streetwear and having a cool name.
The combination of de Frutos’s piece, set to Stravinsky’s dark 19203 work [as Iloces, and Lee’s to music by contemporary composer Terry Riley should provide a striking challenge for the Ricochet collective.
And just in case you were wondering, they’ve made a group decision not to get their kit off. This time. (Ellie Carr)
Ricochet Dance Company, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 17/Sat 18
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