REVIEW: Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde @ Newcastle Castle (6.12.15) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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With its low set wood-beamed ceiling, imposing brick-backed fireplace, thick stone window frames, and glass cabinet full of suitably arcane tat; the top floor of the newly-renovated Black Gate played suitable host to a screening of 1920’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

John Barrymore stars in the sixth of countless film adaptations over the past century, delivering an emotionally and technically stunning performance that carries a reasonably straight-laced take on the iconic novella.

With his famously swooned-over profile and stage-earned acting chops both in full force, Barrymore is absolutely captivating. Earning our sympathies as the idealistic, pure of heart Dr. Jekyll, we wince as his fiancée’s father pokes at his good nature, attempting to prove – apropos of nothing aside from paternal suspicion and a desire to impress his gin-blossomed drinking buddies – that all good men have a dark side, and Dr. Henry Jekyll is no exception.

Obsessed by the idea that man does indeed have dark and light sides locked in a lifelong Cold War for the soul, Jekyll retreats to his laboratory to break the Gordian knot of mutually-assured destruction, developing a potion that transforms him into the hideous Mr. Hyde, a bizarro version of himself fuelled by base desire and diabolical intent, enabling him to finally embrace his dark side while leaving his eternal soul unscathed.

Playing out the initial transformation sans-makeup and entirely through a series of stunning facial and bodily contortions, Barrymore slowly deteriorates over the course of the film as his dark side consumes him; malformed by ever-more gruesome prosthetics and practical effects.

With rape and murder heavily implied as Hyde grows ever more nefarious, this is not a sympathetic creature in the same vein as Nosferatu or Frankenstein’s monster. Instead, the revolting aberration of Hyde makes us long for the good of Dr. Jekyll to win out, overturning the cynical ploy to make him ashamed of his goodness and long for a knowledge of evil.

Worth seeing for Barrymore’s enthralling performance alone, the film is bolstered by terrific special effects work, particularly during the transformations themselves and an unforgettable dream sequence featuring a nightmarish spectral spider.

At it’s heart, the story continues to resonate as it forces us to ask ourselves to confront our own dark side within, and question whether we’d embrace it given the opportunity to do so without consequence, eternal or otherwise. The answer may be more uncomfortable than any of us would like to admit.

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