BBC Radio 4, 25 July 2009
Sometimes there are works whose sheer familiarity turns them into clichés.
This is particularly true of gothic horror stories like Frankenstein, Dracula or Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde. Each remake carries with it the baggage of the past - the memory of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, or Fredric March's
memorable performance in the 1931 version of Stevenson's tale.
I am happy to report that Claire Grove's radio revival offered a refreshingly different
take on familiar material. While due respect was paid to the two sides of Jekyll's (Adam Godley's) nature, the production
introduced a colonialist element. Jekyll was not only trying to push the scientific boundaries; he also tried to experience
how the other half lived. The 'other half' in this context was the life of the colonized other - that race of people categorized
as savages, whose religion and culture remained impenetrable to most colonizers. Jekyll wanted to understand how they felt
by transforming himself into Mr. Hyde, sacrificing 'civilization' for spontaneity.
But did this interpretation allow for a more liberal view of Stevenson's novella?
It certainly showed how the author's psychological discourse had political overtones (allowing people to be categorized as
'civilized' or 'savage,' depending on their behaviour). Moreover it showed how the comfortable world of bourgeois Victorian
London was not that different from the 'savage' world of the colonies. On the other hand it could be argued that Stevenson
reinforces the colonialist distincion; by showing how human beings had an essentially binarist conception of their lives.
I really don't know what to make of Stevenson's novella. While serving as an awful
warning of the consequences awaiting anyone who dares to meddle with the unknowable, it is a period piece in the sense that
it reinforces class- and politically-based hierarchies. Listening to Adam Godley's tortured interpretation of the central
role, I also got the feeling that Jekyll is a narcissist, so wrapped up in his scientific work that he remains oblivious to
everything around him. He remains solely responsible for his "vicarious depravity."