Interview with the Director and the Choreographer of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Director Psyche Stott
Choreographer Paul Bayes Kitcher

What inspired you to take on this classic tale?

Psyche: I knew of the story of course, but when I read the novella I understood exactly why Storyhouse would want to do this play in this day and age. It’s an iconic tale, it’s in our thinking and in our terminology today. It’s about how communities exist in the world and how humanity itself enables different types of repression. Not a lot has changed in that respect, which is fascinating. Most exciting for me was that Paul and Fallen Angels were attached to it. The chance to collaborate with Paul on this story that feels so relevant to now, even though it was written in Victorian times.

Paul: The story of Jekyll and Hyde is my story. I had a conversation with Alex (Storyhouse artistic director) a while ago and we were trying to produce a play that told a recovery story, so he brought me into the fold for this. It’s a story that is very significant; every addict and alcoholic can relate to it, it’s actually referenced in the Alcoholics Anonymous book. Then I met Psyche and we hit it off really well, it’s a real honour to work with her because I’ve never worked with a director or a team like this before to do my own choreography, so it means a lot to me.

How are you incorporating movement into this adaptation?

Psyche: We have two actors taking on the roles of Dr Jekyll and then Mr Hyde, whereas in the book they are one and the same person. In this adaptation, two actors are caretaking the same character. This is where the skills of Paul come in: we can show physically how they are similar and work with but also against each other. There are moments where Jekyll becomes weaker than Hyde, and vice versa, and exploring that physically tells that story in a clearer way.

Paul: The first day I came into rehearsal, I started to impose my own language and the way I would move personally. Then I went away to think and decided to let go and open up more. Instead of me controlling it, I’m just giving slight direction and the actors are finding it in their own bodies. I’ve used a lot of the tasks that I work with in our recovery groups. I think it’s important when people find things from deep within rather than being told steps. I got real goose bumps as it unfolded. Once you let go and everyone is relaxed, the creativity just happens and there’s no fear. The movement here for me illustrates the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of the struggles of addiction – a twisted love story between the two sides of one person. They take each other hostage; they can’t let go of each other.

How are you tackling the inherent good v evil theme?

Psyche: The really exciting thing about Glyn’s adaptation is that there are two female roles in the story. It’s not just Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde that are grappling with that sense of good and evil, its riddled through every character. The female characters struggle with what society expects of them and what is allowed for a woman and their role in society. All of the characters explore where their repressions are and how they manifest – whether it brings out a good side or a bad side of them.

One of the questions we’ve been asking is how we know what’s good and what’s bad, who tells us that. Each character asks how we decide this and whether we should assume that how things were in the past should be how they are now. The young Rose in particular asks why. These themes are experienced through the language and informed by the physical movement too. You’ll see how characters deal with the question of good and evil throughout the play.

Paul, how is the ethos of Fallen Angels feeding into the choreographing process?

Paul: It’s all the way through. I recently encountered a recovering addict who had relapsed; woken up and didn’t know what he had done, and he referred to himself as Jekyll and Hyde. There are moments in the play where Dr Jekyll wakes up with blood on his hands and he doesn’t know where he is, he’s disorientated – he asks himself whether it was dream or am he is actually turning into a monster. When people are in active addiction, they may have blackouts and do all sorts of things and never know. They wake up with blood on their hands too.

On a more positive note, the life of Fallen Angels and the process of recovery centres around darkness and light. The journey of a soul in recovery. There’s a set of principles that you follow in recovery – trying to find the light and the purity of the soul, so that you can start putting into society rather than taking out of it. When you’re in active addiction, it’s the opposite, you’re in a dark place and you can’t find the light or the truth. My personal story can be found throughout The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde. I can’t wait for everyone from Fallen Angels, everyone who is in recovery, to see this, as they’ll all recognise the story as their own journey. Addiction isn’t really about drink or drugs; it’s about keeping in the light and keeping out the darkness.

Psyche: This aspect of an addict’s recovery can be found in the language Dr Jekyll uses: “If I could just get to the light and rid myself of the dark”. He creates this chemical concoction which he thinks is revolutionary – that will help suppress the element of him that he feels is ‘the bad side’ and it goes wrong. A big question is if we could change the world to a place where people didn’t feel isolated, would we have addicts? Is it the individual that needs to change, or the world?

How does having a new character (Rose) give a new perspective on the story?

Psyche: It allows us to shed new light on the story and see it through the eyes of the audience, as we come at it with our 21st century views. The other characters don’t have the benefit of hindsight but Rose allows us to ask those questions that we can’t with the novella. It’s also originally a very male story and they stay within the strictures of Victorian society. Rose hasn’t yet learned to behave, so through her we are able to question this.

What made you choose each actor, what do they each offer?

Psyche: They were the very best. We had a fantastic pool of people to draw from but when you are casting a story, you’re looking for actors that can take on the physicality and also master the language. It’s four people telling a story to represent a whole community so we needed actors that would collaborate, play and be open. What’s exciting is three of them have had a relationship with Storyhouse before, two of them in the new building and then one of them is new to Storyhouse but has very deep roots in Chester, going back centuries (Rosa Hesmondhalgh). It’s exciting to work with people who have such a deep-rooted connection to the sense of place and to what Storyhouse is aiming to do for its community.
They are also all brilliant and are making all our ideas even better than we could possibly have imagined.

What’s different about this production?

Psyche: When I first came to Chester and to Storyhouse, I took a wander around the city. Just across from the theatre is an archway and a square with cobbled streets and steps up to an unknown place. It feels like a place that’s very public, but also very secret. Chester is a place that full of shops and restaurants with people enjoying themselves, but just outside there are people that don’t have anywhere to live, or any food. The whole fabric of the city could be a set for The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde – a lot of the buildings in Chester were built during that time and it feels like you could easily imagine these characters walking around this very city. In some ways they still exist. This story feels special to here. The city of Chester has informed the design. The very fabric of the city is interwoven into the production, which makes it very special. There’s a description of Hyde in the novella that he tumbles through the streets like a juggernaut and I think that’s how this production should feel – you don’t know what is going to happen next.

Paul: I’m really, really looking forward to our recovery community seeing it, I think it will leave a lasting impression. The experience has been magical and beautiful.

What story would you love to direct/choreograph?

Paul: Apart from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Hyde of course! Fallen Angels have something really exciting coming up: it’s an Arts Council-funded co-commission with Storyhouse. It’s the first time I’ve had the privilege of working with a writer, and it will explore stories of childhood trauma and addiction manifestation. As a former addict who has been left cold by plays about addiction before, I’m really looking forward to creating something accessible with the real stories of Fallen Angels. I’m excited, I’m frightened – I can’t wait.

Psyche: There are certain people who have a very clear idea of the stories they want to tell, but for me a story often finds me where I am. It’s like having a bookshelf – you can have a load of books and love all of them but want to read one story at one time, because you’re in that place. I have a load of stories I want to tell; I’m excited by stories that help us make sense of who we are and where we’ve come from and where we might go. I’m always on the hunt for stories that help us examine those questions. There will undoubtedly be a lot of stories that stem from the time we’re living in now, but what’s brilliant about going back in history is we sometimes discover that we haven’t always learned from our mistakes. Even today we have learnt about an 18th Century woman who disguised themselves as a man to become a well-respected doctor and was only discovered after they died.

What advice would you give to aspiring directors/choreographers?

Paul: Don’t do it! Just kidding – just do it. Sometimes you will find yourself guided. In my early career I was invited to a rehab to teach dance to people in recovery. I’d never done that, before that I had only done ballet, and I thought how will I teach these people? I had to develop ways to take them on a positive journey, so I adapted creative writing, painting, sculpture, and then we would draw authentic movement out of those stories. I found unexpected artistic inspiration from people in prison. I always thought I’d teach ballet; this is much more interesting. Do something that you love, do it with passion, and keep failing, as by doing that you learn and grow. I found this path accidentally and now it’s in the studio with these people that I find the most inspiration. You can always learn from everyone – I can watch the Royal Ballet one day and then a person who has never danced before the next, and you can learn from both. You grow by giving and by letting go of yourself.

Psyche: Don’t wait to feel that you need to know what you’re doing. You only learn from doing. Don’t feel that you must get it right, because then you will miss out on the journey of getting there. Just jump in, get your hands dirty, and you’ll only learn from doing whether it’s right for you. It can be tough, so find a thing about it that you love and remember that during times when it’s difficult. When I first started out, I ate and drank everything theatre, but it was only by getting out into the big bad world that I was really able to understand what theatre was, so if you want to go down that route, it’s about people, so you need to get out into the world and understand what it’s like to be alive to understand how to tell these stories, which are ultimately about real people. So, do everything!