Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Jonathan Holloway: Jekyll & Hyde

By | Published on Thursday 23 July 2015

The latest show to head over to London’s Platform Theatre is a new production of Jonathan Holloway’s innovative take on ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, a collaboration between the playwright’s own company, Red Shift, and Hong Kong based theatre producers Chung Ying.


Jonathan is well known for his work as a theatre director, and for his writing for stage, screen and radio. I sent some questions over to him, to find out more the show, and what audiences can expect from it.

CM: Most people probably know the story of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, but could you tell us a bit about the show’s narrative?
JH: The original story – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louise Stevenson – is pretty much an over-worked dead dog. It’s so familiar it lacks the power to shock. Almost every stage and screen adaptation I have come across has given away the essential plot twist very early on and reduced experiencing the yarn to time serving. I wanted to come at it completely differently, appropriating and reinvigorating the story for contemporary audiences and do Stevenson a favour by taking creative liberties that chuck it back into the arena of debate and innovative contemporary theatre-making.

Our Jekyll is an East European research scientist living at the end of the 19th century who has experienced unspeakable abuse in far off war zones, and comes to London to find safety by turning herself into a man. Sadly, in the process she turns herself into exactly the kind of testosterone driven psychopath she intended to protect herself from. Furthermore, the degree to which her potions and serums have much effect is in doubt as she starts self harming and self administering surgery that takes her further from the wholesome human experience she craves.

CM: What themes does the play delve into?
JH: That psychopathic behaviour is the result of abusive experience; that there is no such thing as absolute evil; that self-mutilation is not a path to happiness; that society is slow to understand the darker workings of the subconscious, but quick to demonise and punish.

CM: What made you want to create a stage adaptation? Are you a fan of the book?
JH: Film and TV are about actuality – they can take you there and show you the Normandy landings or Spiderman flying through the air. The theatre is about imagination and ideas and relies on a contract between the performers and the spectators that goes something like – if you imagine the things we ask you to imagine you’ll have a great time, if you don’t you might as well go home now.

I have always been concerned with reinventing traditional and popular genres in the theatre as a means of encouraging broad audiences into watching innovative performance. This worked very well with my previous theatre company which toured the world with radical reinterpretations of famous stories like ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Get Carter’. The gothic is a particular favourite of mine; particularly attractive to younger audiences and plays very well to my wealth of internalised Catholic imagery of martyrdom.

CM: The play was first staged back in 2013, wasn’t it? How does this production compare to the first run of it? Has the play changed at all, or is it just the staging of it that’s different?
JH: It is as if that production (brilliantly directed by Jessica Edwards) has been injected with steroids. This new version is longer and more ambitious, leaving its fringe credentials on the shelf and plunging into ambitious, spectacular staging with demonic lighting and a brilliant, complex soundscape of surprising invocations of night and unspeakable horrors.

CM: How did the collaboration between Red Shift and Chung Ying come about?
JH: Chung Ying previously mounted three productions of my straight stage version of Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’, and it was a big hit for them in Hong Kong and China, so they researched and became aware of my credentials as a contemporary theatre artist. We began courting, and when they finally secured the investment for a series of English language productions which would raise the standard of HK theatre and demonstrate the city’s desire to face outwards to the international cultural community, they came to me. And I’m flattered and pleased they did.

CM: Red Shift has been producing plays for more than thirty years. What were you aiming to achieve when you founded the company?
JH: I wanted to make work that would foreground European traditions in physical and visual theatre-making while delivering watertight narratives that would appeal to broad audiences. I am still contacted by producing theatres wanting advice on how to capture that quicksilver success as artistically credible, ideas driven, popular theatre producers.

CM: What’s next for you, and Red Shift?
JH: In the theatre, new versions of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ (site specific production in the amazing new Mathematics centre at Oxford university) and ‘A Tale of two Cities’ for Red Shift/Chung Ying in March of 2016. In broadcasting, a brand new BBC play for Shakespeare 400 and two biographical plays about Arthur Miller featuring the amazing actor and Hollywood star Ed Harris.

‘Jekyll and Hyde’ is on at Platform Theatre from 28 Jul – 8 Aug. See the venue website for more details and tickets

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