The National School of Drama’s final year students presented “Dr. Jekyll & Hyde”, based on Stevenson’s famous novella, in promenade style with mixed results
“Dr. Jekyll & Hyde” based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, a novella written in 1886, staged by the final year students of the National School of Drama at the School’s central lawn this past week is an experimental theatrical piece that seeks to amalgamate elements of light, sound, acrobatics and environmental theatre. The dramatic action in a fragmented form is spread out to several venues on the lawn, including some locales set in rooms and two-level platforms. The experiment allows the performers to share their acting space with the audience. One scene is set on a mini truck. The acting style adopted, called ‘promenade’, hampered the reflection of subtle psychological complexities of the characters. Besides, it makes viewing taxing and heavy.
Directed by Anuradha Kapur, director of NSD, the performance text in Hindi is written by Geetanjali Shree. The novella has many film and stage versions. It was possibly for the first time in recent memory that this grim literary piece was presented in Hindi on the Delhi stage. The philosophical essence of the novella is about the dual nature of man which is described as a split personality. Ever since it captured the imagination of creative people, “Jekyll and Hyde” has been popular for its allegorical meaning that evil and good qualities coexist within the soul of a person and are revealed in different situations at different times. To explore the interplay of such deep and complex psychic traits within an individual provides creative people the opportunity to recreate and interpret this genre called Gothic horror. The most powerful theatrical work to reveal this state of psyche is “Herr Puntila and his Servant Matti” by Bertolt Brecht — a potent satire on the property owing class.
Before being allowed to enter the performance space in the central lawn, we were given ‘instructions’ to acquaint us about the space and also provided with a tiny torch to move about in the different acting venues. On entering, the audience sees performers in outlandish costumes running towards rooms across the corridor, jumping up on the low roof with alacrity and returning. A performer cast in the role of a cat leads us to Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory. The performers move in a frenzied state of mind. Lawyer Utterson is disturbed and wants to protect his friend and client Dr. Jekyll who has willed his property in favour of Hyde, a sinister personality. But the doctor does not give any heed to the advice of his friend. The doctor goes in search of Hyde. The room in which the laboratory is set accommodates the audience and the performers.
The audience is then instructed to move to another space, the house of Hyde. We hear the conversation between his housekeeper and her friend which throws light on Hyde and his relationship with Dr. Jekyll. Hyde enters with a fish. His presence is dreadful. A cat is already there. The hungry and crazy cat is aggressively making attempts to eat the fish. This scene is the most effectively designed with two-level platforms. The audience experiences multi-focus theatre in contrast to the traditional single focus. We walk to the next space, a dinner party set in the open air. Here the interaction between the performers and audience takes place in a unique style. While the performers are participating in a dinner in a grim and dreadful atmosphere, the audience, mostly standing, is also offered a cup of hot tea.
The play comes to an end with the scene set in Sammukh theatre. Here we watch 16 actors, each sitting in front of a mirror. We watch reflections of their faces on the mirror which are mostly distorted and grotesque. Mostly the images on the mirrors are used to reflect the dichotomy between reality and illusion. In the context of Dr. Jekyll & Hyde, this device could have been used to reflect split personality. This being an isolated scene, it contributes little to enrich the production in terms of its complex theme.
Director Kapur seems to have concentrated more on the form and on exploration of the space which she describes in her note as “found spaces”. She writes, “the students sought to create Hyde’s rooms, Jekyll’s workshops and laboratories, secret lairs and hiding place.” A novella written 127 years ago has inspired film and stage directors because of its contemporary relevance. It needs to be reinterpreted to make it relevant to contemporary social, cultural and political situations prevailing in India and to expose the hypocrisy of the ruling class.