BBC Radio 3, 21 October 2012
Robert Forrest's play was inspired by two significant moments in Robert
Louis Stevenson's (Tom Freeman's) early life; a major quarrel with his father Thomas (Alexander Morton), and the gradual
discovery of his literary and intellectual consciousness.
The major dramatic conflict was inspired by two world-views: the world of social
cohesion based on religion, respect for one elders and a trust in divine power; and Louis' view, inspired by Darwin,
Herbert Spencer, Baudelaire and Walt Whitman (amongst others), which questioned the very existence of God and focused instead
on human beings' relationship to the world around them. Stevenson did not want to follow the path set out for him -
studying at university, prior to becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Instead he wanted to write literature as a way of coming
to terms with his own reflections on the world. His father would not (or could not) countenance the idea, which led
to an irreparable breach between himself and his son.
Louis turned instead to Kate (Meg Fraser), a creation of his own imagination who
kept goading him on to greater feats of self-assertion. There were perhaps two reasons for this; she represented the
voice of his conscience, telling him to reject the constraints imposed on him by late nineteenth century Edinburgh society
and discover things for himself. Meg also represented the woman Louis most desired to fall in love with; a mysterious
personality from the Highlands, whose outlook on life was as wild as the landscape from which she originated.
David Ian Neville's production unfolded on several levels: while Louis offered a spirited
defence of his way of life while conversing with his father, he experienced more intimate imaginative conversations with Meg,
during which he reflected on the consequences of his actions.
The story as a whole was deliberately designed to recall Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,
suggesting, perhaps superficially, that Louis suffered from a split personality. In truth Forrest's strategy
emphasized that, for Louis at least, there was no distinction between the 'imaginative' life of the mind and the 'real' life
he experienced in Edinburgh. They were complementary and inseparable from one another.
The play was at one level a penetrating character-study of a deeply troubled men,
while at the same time reminding us of the intellectual ferment of the late nineteenth century, when Enlightenment certainties
were continually subject to revaluation (and rejection, in some cases). I thoroughly enjoyed it,