by Tracy Brigden
I have just begun rehearsals for Jeffrey Hatcher’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It has been so exciting to prepare to direct this vivid adaptation of R.L. Stevenson’s most famous work. In the last couple of months I have been immersing myself in the culture, life, mores, discoveries, and images of Victorian London. There are some terrific books on the subject that cover everything from the medical profession to prostitution to the sewage system. I have included a bibliography at the end of this entry. I have also been looking at many of the painters of the period like Whistler, Turner, and Monet. If you only think of Whistler as being the man who painted his mother—look at some of his paintings of London and the sky—they are totally different and gorgeous.
We are going to use a Monet image, Waterloo Bridge,in the set designed by Tony Ferrieri. However, the way we have used it is a bit of a nod to the many facets of the brain that are the theme of the play.
Susan Tsu’s costumes are inspired by the real clothes of the late 19th century. But we have added a layer of the modern Goth look on the top of them—which is surprisingly close to Victorian style. (Check back here for more on the Jekyll and Hyde designs in an upcoming article with Tracy and the designers.)
It’s difficult to imagine a world where the notion of the subconscious mind is completely new and vanguard, but the study of the mind was just beginning in this period. RLS was inspired by some of the new theories on the subject to write his novella, the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
To give some context for the times, ether had just been discovered and replaced brandy or opium as an anesthesia for surgery. Hospitals for people other than the absolutely destitute were just being created. If you had any means surgeons came to your home and performed exams, leeching, or surgery on your bed or dining table. The notion that germs and bacteria might spread via touch or water or air was just being examined.
The other aspect of life at the turn of the century is the vast difference in the lives, professions, health, and domiciles of the rich and poor. The average person living in poverty lived to be only 25, while an average person with money lived at least 20 years longer. Women in particular were deeply affected by their financial circumstances. If you didn’t have a husband or any means or education, your choices were fairly limited to servant, factory girl, or prostitute. Prostitution was rampant throughout London, and utilized by all the social classes. A bit of education might get you a job as a nurse or in a shop—but the wages were still below poverty level in most cases.
It is against this vivid backdrop that Stevenson, and now Hatcher, have created this story of the good and evil in man. I think it will make a very enthralling, and theatrical evening.
Hope to see you at the theatre!
— Tracy Brigden, Artistic Director
Dore, Gustave and Blanchard Jerrold. London a Pilgrimage. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1970.
Mitchell, Sally. Daily Life in Victorian England. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.
Nead, Lynda. Victorian Babylon: People, Streets and Images in 19th century London. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005.
Picard, Liza. Victorian London: The Tale of a City 1840-1870. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2005.
Porter, Roy. The Cambridge Illustrated History of Medicine. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.