The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a slick hybrid of live theatre and film

Henry Pettigrew and Lorn Macdonald are superb in the new production of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Henry Home
Henry Pettigrew and Lorn Macdonald are superb in the new production of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Henry Home

There has been no shortage of theatre productions broadcast for the screen as a result of the pandemic. But the nature and quality of this screen work has varied massively, ranging from straightforward (and uninspiring) to cleverly interactive pieces (such as Zoo Motel and Zoo Mundo by Colombia-based American dramatist Thaddeus Phillips) that are bespoke to the unique possibilities of the internet.

The latest show by the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) and various partners is firmly in the category marked “hybrid”, bringing together, as it does, live performance and screen broadcast. Adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the piece is presented in what the NTS bills as “theatrical live experiences” at Leith Theatre tonight and tomorrow evening, a live broadcast to selected UK cinemas tomorrow, and a series of “as live” cinema broadcasts thereafter.

One of the partners in the venture is Sky Arts, who will, in the autumn, be broadcasting a film edited from the live to screen performances. The project is directed by filmmaker Hope Dickson Leach (best known for her acclaimed movie The Levelling) and co-written by her and dramatist Vlad Butucea. It boasts a stellar cast of Scottish acting talent, including David Hayman, Alison Peebles and Tam Dean Burn.

Audience members who attended the opening show at the extraordinary (but, as yet, still semi-dilapidated) Leith Theatre hoping to see these fine actors in the flesh will have been disappointed. What they saw instead was an extremely ingenious and highly technically proficient live film, projected onto a massive screen on the theatre stage, while the cast moved around the building performing the scenes on a series of film sets.

Made entirely in black and white, the adaptation relocates Stevenson’s story from London to the writer’s home city of Edinburgh. The piece has an excellent, atmospheric soundtrack, which the theatre audience listens to (along with the live dialogue) through infrared headsets.

We watch Utterson (the superb Lorn Macdonald) struggle with the terrifying alter-ego of his friend Dr Jekyll (performed brilliantly by Henry Pettigrew) in an industrialising, late-19th century Edinburgh. As both men use their high social status to act above the law, the smart script crackles with sharp observations of social inequality and the nature of justice.

However, fascinating though this new version of the tale may be, and while the live film technology is impressive, one can’t help but notice that, in technological terms, this project is not as groundbreaking as its creators might think. Live-to-air drama is as old as television itself (the original series of Z-Cars in 1962, for instance, was broadcast live).

The “liveness” of this Jekyll and Hyde is, first-and-foremost, a testament to its technical virtuosity. Elevating form over content, this “hybrid” bears a far greater resemblance to film than it does to live theatre.

Captured live from Leith Theatre, the production will be streamed into cinemas across the UK from Sunday 27 Feb