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Dr Jekyll’s dualistic conclusion: “man is not truly one, but two”

Jekyll and Hide

As I start rehearsals for Jekyll and Hyde at the Pleasance Theatre in London when re-reading the book I am caught by the theme of dualism (much explored before now) and how it still resonates with society in the 21st Century. The idea of a hidden, darker self in line with Freud’s id is relevant to all of us. Perhaps this piqued my interest in particular because I was born under Gemini? Make of that what you will!

Ever since I became an actor I was aware of its deeply dualistic nature. We walk the streets as Jekylls and then we dive into our dressing rooms where we physically and mentally transform, almost magically at times, (and certainly in the case of prosthetics) we metamorphose into other beings. Both “other” in the sense of aesthetically transformed perhaps, false noses, wigs, tights but also emotionally as we prepare to journey through an evening in the skin of another person. We put ourselves in situations we perhaps , most likely, would never find ourselves in reality. We then emerge onto the streets, having supped on the drug of playing and the theatre to become our former Jekyllian-selves. Our Hyde’s buried in waiting anxiously until the next evening (or afternoon!). Becoming these other characters is both intoxicating and exhausting, something which is bought out in the book as the story unfolds. Acting is certainly an addiction and one could argue for Jekyll becoming Hyde is also quite possibly an addiction.

This dualism of course can be argued to be relevant to all society and not just to the make up applying acting profession. Police, teachers, athletes all perform and become Hydian when they have to, whether it has the same ecstasy compared to inhabiting another being, as in the case with actors, is probably questionable.

Becoming our Hydian selves is of course not a good thing, as what that really represents is the darker sides of our minds and souls and ergo the argument falls flat and my analogy is wrong. For example when we become other people on stage or on film we are not doing anyone any harm and arguably it is bringing out the lighter and therefore better part of ourselves. Unless of course your performance is deeply dreadful then, I’m afraid, I have no words. Are we therefore actually living in an existence where we are all Hydes during the day and Jekylls in the evening? Are we more true to ourselves when we are “as others”. Certainly wandering the streets of London one finds it hard to keep one’s cool during rush hour and I wouldn’t be the only one to confess to occasionally having a temper when it gets too much….”stand on the right!” Fortunately I have never trampled someone underfoot, unlike the mysterious Hyde.

There is also the third Hyde… or Jekyll (or perhaps even the author Mr Stevenson), depending on which school of thought you wish to take. This is something I believe to be particularly relevant to actors, as they take on a third role (perhaps even a fourth of fifth) in their part time/freelance jobs that they may or may not take. As now I have taken the role of writer….I would go with Hydian, as I believe I probably do more damage to the very name of writing than I do good! Other actors may take on the roles of waiters, barmen, taxi drivers and so forth, in which another persona is assumed (sans wigs one hopes). You inhabit another role in which all actors hate getting caught up into THAT conversation, “what do you do” “oh! You’re an actOr” which means you enter a rabbit hole of complicated and complex confusion as you try and explain the trialistic, quadrillistic nature of one’s life. I am not waving a flag for actors, well, I am a little but I’m well aware that everyone plays many roles in life even simply as son, daughter, father, or cousin etc etc.

So does Hyde represent the id? Of course, the demanding and powerful beast that lies beneath us. The political swingin in our stomachs, those that want to be tolerant but voted leave on honest grounds despite it’s fascistic connections, those that want a stronger economy without spending but just can’t vote for the right. Hyde is in all of us in many varied ways. I would say that the one true time we become Hyde is when we drink the modern day equivalent of a “potion” in pubs and bars and become intoxicated to the point where our less eloquent and (perhaps) darker selves come out. When we may speak without our tongue tethered by our Ego. A side that knows no control, that needs to feed, in some way or other, both our culinary and perhaps our sexual appetites. Our fancies become heightened, our desires become more palpable. In some cases we become unstoppable, like Hyde in his true form. We can become monsters unable to see as clearly or reasonably as our sober Jekyll like selves that we are during the day. Sadly some people really do become beasts, with devastating consequences.

Stevenson was telling a story in which I think he was warning us all of the id, but also making us aware that we should not too much tame the demon inside us. Jekyll’s assertion is indeed correct, man is not one at all, but he is also more than just two, multi-layered and multi-faceted yes but essentially we have our two main instincts comprised of that age old battle of good versus evil, dark versus light, it is an eternal battle within oneself and within any socio-political narrative. The question of staging the show is, luckily, one that I will not have to answer but I can tell you that there is a dualistic nature in the book. Of the dark, gothic Victoriana set in the gruesome London of 1886 which sits alongside the comic nature of a story with it’s huge characters and it’s prodigious narratives that sits well with turning it into a slapstick four-hander. But beware, as you sit laughing in the stalls, something darker lurks beneath both yourself and the people sitting next to you…

Andrew Venning is playing Utterson in Jekyll and Hyde at the Pleasance Theatre, London

23rd May – 10th June


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