Historic theatre transformed for 21st century take on Jekyll and Hyde

It is the historic Scottish theatre building which has been closed to the public for more than half the time since it was built nearly a century ago.

Thursday, 24th February 2022, 4:55 am
Updated Thursday, 24th February 2022, 5:08 pm
Henry Pettigrew and Lorn Macdonald are starring in the new production of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Picture: Henry Home
Henry Pettigrew and Lorn Macdonald are starring in the new production of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Picture: Henry Home

But now Leith Theatre is set to take centre stage in a groundbreaking new cultural project, which will see the stage and screen worlds brought together under its roof for a revival of a classic Victorian story with a 21st century twist.

When the 400 ticket-holders for each performance of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde arrive at the venue this weekend they will be walking onto the set of a live film which will be shot and edited while they are in the building.

More than 20 rooms, corridors and forgotten spaces have been turned into locations for scenes in the National Theatre of Scotland’s new version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic thriller.

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    The Victorian story - relocated by writer and director Hope Dickson Leach to late 19th century from the London of Stevenson’s Victorian novella - will be experienced by audiences on a giant screen in the theatre’s main auditorium while the cast perform around the building.

    And the production – billed as “a theatrical live screen experience” – will also be screened “as live” in more than 80 cinemas across the UK from Sunday night.

    Nearly 100 cast and crew are working on the all-new Jekyll and Hyde, which has been in the planning stages for well over a year.

    The cast will be led by two of Scotland’s rising stage and screen stars – Lorn Macdonald, who will play Gabriel Utterson, a man who finds himself in a world of dark duplicity, and becoming seduced by the rich and powerful half of Edinburgh, he has attempts to uncover the identify of the mysterious Mr Hyde and the hold he has over his friend Dr Jekyll, both played by Henry Pettigrew.

    The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is being staged at Leith Theatre this weekend and streamed into cinemas across the UK from Sunday. Picture: Henry Home

    The new version of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which was originally published in 1886, marks a new chapter in the history of the theatre, which was built as a donation to Leith from the city of Edinburgh after their controversial amalgamation in 1920.

    Opned in 1932, the building has survived a Second World War bomb blast, which saw it closed for 20 years until 1961, and a near 30-year closure in the late 1980s when its condition fell into decline, despite playing host to Edinburgh International Festival productions for decades as well as gigs by the likes of AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Slade Dr Feelgood, Frankie Miller, Mott the Hoople and Kraftwerk.

    The theatre was saved from a threatened sell-off by the city council 18 years ago, was finally reopened in 2017 by the city’s Hidden Door festival and was being used on a regular basis again until the pandemic struck in 2020.

    However the venue has been regularly used for the filming of bands, as well as Amazon’s new supernatural thriller series The Rig, which was based in a new warehouse studio complex in nearby Leith Docks.

    A cinema screen has been installed in Leith Theatre for the National Theatre of Scotland production. Picture: Henry Home

    The idea of using the building for a new take on Stevenson’s story emerged after Dickson Leach worked with NTS on her film Ghost Light, which was shot around the spaces at the Festival Theatre while the venue was closed during the first wave of Covid restrictions.

    Jackie Wylie, artistic director at NTS, said: “At one point, we were going to do Jekyll and Hyde much earlier and we were looking at doing outdoors, with an audience.

    “When we realised February was going to be the right time for us to do the project we knew we had to do it indoors. When we went to see Leith Theatre we just knew it was the perfect space for it.

    “The sets look really theatrical, but also look as if they’ve been there forever. It’s amazing how gothic and atmospheric the building is. It feels like it’s a character in the story.

    Caroline Deyga and Lorn Macdonald are among the stars of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Picture: Henry Home

    “We were always very keen to have a live audience. We’ve allowed the project to be driven by the filmmaking, but that’s what makes it theatre.

    “There’s not many times when you can say that you’re genuinely going into new territory, but there’s something about this that feels like that. It’s a genuine meshing together of theatre and film.”

    Pettigrew said: “We have pre-shot some scenes, including around the city, but the vast majority are going to be done live each night, in around 20 different locations.

    “The main auditorium is set up a bit like a cinema, with a big screen, but the cast and crew are going to be walking, if not sprinting, to the next location.

    “We’re filming in all the nooks and crannies of the building, there are some fantastic alleys and an art deco staircase that we’re using, and amazing sets have been built for offices and laboratories.

    “We’ve been rehearsing, scene by scene over the last few weeks, but with a level of precision you don’t normally have. There are multiple cameras for each scene so we have to be very exact where we stand.

    The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is being staged at Leith Theatre this weekend and streamed into cinemas across the UK from Sunday. Picture: Laurence Winram

    "There’s definitely going to be an extra level of anxiety and adrenaline cursing through our veins – for the actors and the crew. It’s challenging, but also incredibly exciting.”

    Leith Theatre chief executive Lynn Morrison said: “We’ve had so many filming projects in here over the last couple of years, but nothing on this kind of scale or complexity.

    “From start to finish, the National Theatre of Scotland will have been in for two months, but Hope was actually working in the building for around six weeks before that.

    "They’re using the whole building – including old storage rooms we’ve cleared out, under the stage and in basement spaces which have been redecorated. Everything has been transformed.

    “We’ve seen the whole production go from an idea to get to this stage, which is really exciting for what’s still a semi-derelict building.”

    The set of Mr Hyde's laboratory created for the National Theatre of Scotland production. Picture: Henry Home
    The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is being staged at Leith Theatre this weekend and streamed into cinemas across the UK from Sunday. Picture: Laurence Winram
    The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is being staged at Leith Theatre this weekend and streamed into cinemas across the UK from Sunday. Picture: Henry Home
    Lorn Macdonald stars as Utterson in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Picture: Henry Home
    More than 20 sets have been created at Leith Theatre for the creation of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.