In their words: Evan Placey on reimagining Jekyll & Hyde

Playwright Evan Placey tells us about reinventing Gothic classic Jekyll & Hyde and creating work for the National Youth Theatre.

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“Taking on a classic story that everyone knows is always going to be a daunting task. I was conscious when working on my version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll And Hyde that it was a process of reimagination, rather than simply adaptation. Not only was I writing for a new genre but I was writing for a new generation.

“I wanted to preserve the heart of the novel while making a new work that would stand in its own right. So it made sense for my play to also explore some elements of the story that Stevenson’s novel had not.

“Revisiting the book, I was struck by the invisibility of women. Aside from two fleeting characters in two fleeting moments, they don’t exist. They’re not allowed to be part of the story. So I started to imagine what the stories were for the unseen women in the book. And what the narrative would be like if a woman were to take the reins.

“The repression of the female characters from the novel slowly became the main thing I wanted to explore. Especially the idea that if society represses specific groups, they have to go to extremes to liberate themselves.

“My version came to be centred on a very different Jekyll – Hattie, Jekyll’s bereaved widow – as well as the of the plight of women in Victorian times and how the challenges that faced women then are still just as prevalent now.

“I was first drawn to Jekyll And Hyde because I felt it had utter relevance to today. It still spoke to contemporary society about the repressed desires we all have. I was also fascinated by the fact that today the science to unleash our inner Hyde very much exists. The internet.

“Dr Jekyll’s potion is now accessible to us all, through our online personas. Any of us can hide behind a screen and say or do as we like, exploring sides of ourselves we might not otherwise dare.

“I had questions about personal responsibility that I wanted to ask myself and ultimately the audience. When is doing or saying as we like a positive act of freedom, and maybe revolution, and when is it dangerous? Who decides what desires are acceptable? What is the culpability of words on subsequent actions?

“It’s an issue that lots of young people really engage with. I wanted to tap into it through the play and provoke a debate that continues after the audience members – regardless of age – have left the theatre.

“For me, theatre has always been the best place to ask challenging questions. And I think young people are the most open to debating those challenging questions.

“We need to create work specifically for young people so that we actively represent the world they’re experiencing. Writing for the National Youth Theatre is especially unique as it means audiences also get to see a cast made up entirely of young people. That’s inspiring and something certainly not happening often in the West End.

“We may be in these large, daunting buildings, but with the NYT onstage it really tells young audiences, ‘This theatre is for you. You have every right to be here.’ That’s something I feel passionate about being part of.”

Jekyll & Hyde runs at Ambassadors Theatre until 6 December. It plays in rep with NYT’s production of Othello.