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In 1886, Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson published his novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, adding a new horror icon to the esteemed ranks of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera.
The first stage version of The Strange Case was produced in Boston in 1886. There have since been more than 120 stage and movie incarnations of the brilliant doctor and his deranged alter ego.
Vertigo Theatre is presenting the North American premiere of British author Nick Lane’s daring new adaptation of The Strange Case which has been touring the United Kingdom since 2021.
Joe Perry, who plays both Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde, insists this version is not a creature feature. For each change, he will not be popping behind some set piece to suddenly reemerge with fangs and additional facial hair.
“This is not a monster show. The change that occurs when Jekyll becomes Hyde is internal. It’s a change in personality,” says Perry, explaining “Jekyll is a frail man. He is not physically well, but Hyde has the full physical freedom Jekyll desires. When Hyde appears, there is as drastic a change in his personality as there is in his physicality. That is the challenge for the actor, and it is a real stretch. The goal is for there to be two different expressions of the same human.”
During his preparation to play the dual roles, Perry says he saw Jekyll as “someone who was so work-obsessed, he was no longer a social creature. He valued innovation above everything else to the detriment of himself. He’d become seriously introverted.
“For Hyde, I was looking at someone who had the freedom from any sort of social constraints in a most dangerous way. He’s selfish, without regret, and he has no regard for others or the world at large. Hyde is the more violent, darker side of Jekyll’s psyche. That’s a terrifying reality, so that once Hyde is out of the bag, there is real tension to the story, and it becomes the horror story everyone expects and wants.”
Perry also promises that Lauren Acheson’s set, John Webber’s lighting and Kristin Eveleigh’s sound designs will add to the atmosphere to make this a gothic theatrical experience.
Perry says his first introduction to Stevenson’s story of dual personalities was Jerry Lewis’s 1963 comedy The Nutty Professor in which Lewis played an awkward, unattractive, inarticulate chemistry professor who invents a potion to turn him into a handsome Romeo.
“I thought Jerry was so cool and suave when he made the change. That appealed to the kid who loved that film. There is a bit of that in our Jekyll and Hyde. The Jekyll and Hyde story is most pervasive these days in so many of the Marvel movies. Look at The Incredible Hulk.”
Vertigo’s The Strange Case is being directed by Javier Vilalta, who Perry says flew to England to visit with Nick Lane, to learn more about the inspirations for this adaptation. Vilalta also visited Scotland to research Robert Louis Stevenson, whose weak lungs made him a thin, frail man.
Perry is the younger brother of Stafford Perry, who has been a mainstay of the Calgary theatre scene for more than a decade.
“I remember seeing Stafford in a school production of Peter Pan, and my other brother Tyler in The Little Shop of Horrors. Those resonated with me as did the university production of The Crucible that Stafford was in. Our parents encouraged us in the arts as much as they did in athletics, and I’ve been doing theatre since I was in Grade 4. It’s not something I came to late in life, or just because Stafford made it his profession.”
Joe and Stafford first appeared together on stage professionally in Calgary in The Shakespeare Company’s 2015 production of As You Like It, playing brothers Orlando and Oliver. Last season, they once again shared the spotlight in Vertigo’s thriller The Extractionist, in which Stafford played a corrupt motivational guru and Joe the young apprentice whose mind he twists.
The brothers starred opposite each other, as brothers, in the 2017 horror film Blood Mountain, and worked on a thriller this past summer tentatively called Body Cam in which they play policemen. Joe will be seen this holiday season playing the young Ebenezer Scrooge in Theatre Calgary’s A Christmas Carol.