Adaptation from novels is a popular method of creating new theatre. A new approach to a popular novel can allow those familiar with the work to enjoy it in a new medium and attract new audiences. Playwrights are able to add their own interpretation, shed new light on characters, often increasing the audience’s knowledge of minor characters and exploring existing themes in a new way. Adaptations will often modernise a classic tale, changing key details to appeal to new audiences, for instance setting the tale within a different era as many adaptations of Shakespeare’s work have successfully done.
Nick Lane’s decision to keep his Jekyll and Hyde in the late nineteenth century was a pragmatic one. “I felt that the 1890’s were perfect as the advent of neuroscience at that time fitted in with the medical and philanthropic angle I wanted to approach Dr Jekyll’s work from.”
Some of the key differences between Nick Lane’s adaptation and Stevenson’s original include the exploration of minor characters as well as looking into why and how Dr. Jekyll reaches the point at which he is prepared to transform into Hyde. The breakdown of the friendship between Jekyll and Lanyon is explored extensively within the play and the character of Lanyon developed into a far more complicated man than within Stevenson’s novel.
Another key addition comes in the character of Eleanor, who provides a spur for Jekyll, pushing him on in much the same way as Stevenson’s wife urged her husband to complete the novel. The complexity added by the fact that Eleanor is engaged to someone else when she meets Jekyll is what provides the play with its doomed romantic angle. The character of Eleanor allows the audience to see Jekyll as a man rather than purely a scientist. She is a witness to much of the detail of Jekyll and Hyde’s secret, which in the novel is only discovered following Hyde’s demise. Scenes such as Hyde burning the chequebook after murdering the MP Sir Danvers Carew are given an additional dimension by Eleanor’s presence. In the novel this goes unseen.
In addition, Eleanor delivers Jekyll’s research to Utterson following the doctor’s death. This is quite a departure from the abrupt ending of the novel, in which – since the doctor’s work is purely selfish – only Jekyll’s confession is delivered to the lawyer. Here the idea is that the story of Jekyll and Hyde may continue, if Utterson finds a medical student capable enough to use what Jekyll has uncovered in the right way. Further, the child that Hyde has given Eleanor is an added complication, touching on themes of nature versus nurture.
Nick Lane comments that “the themes and title of Jekyll and Hyde are perhaps far more enduring and well known than the story itself. It’s a great piece to adapt from because there is the freedom to be creative and include new ideas within a very successful and structured narrative which Stevenson has provided.”
There are parts of the play where the book is quoted directly (Enfield’s retelling of the story of the door is a good example). The non-chronological telling of the story is also seen within both the play (where characters recount past events) and the novel (where the story is revealed to Utterson in letters from Dr’s Lanyon and Jekyll after their deaths).