Monday, December 7, 2015

Standing by Dr. Jekyll’s Side – Interview with Emma and Lucy

Huomio, suomalaiset lukijat: lue sama haastattelu suomeksi täällä!

I like the new Finnish production of Jekyll & Hyde the musical better every time I see it. Each time watching the show, I also fall deeper in love with the leading ladies of Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri’s production. I have never encountered such a well-balanced, three-dimensional Emma/Lucy duo!

So, I had a little chat with Saara Jokiaho, who plays Emma, and Maria Lund, who plays Lucy. How do they breathe life into their characters?

Jekyll & Hyde the musical, book by Leslie Bricusse, introduces to two new female characters to a story originally told from male perspective. Emma Carew is Dr. Jekyll’s bride-to-be, an upper-class woman raised by her overprotective father. Lucy Harris is a songstress at The Red Rat, a working girl Mr. Hyde visits at night.

“Emma is a self-opinionated, modern young woman”, Saara Jokiaho summarizes her character.

Modern indeed encapsulates Emma’s thoughts and actions. She is also a brave, a little bit cynical realist”, co-star Maria Lund adds.

“Lucy is a fearless, romantic fool”, Lund characterizes her role.

“Lucy is strong and realistic, but her dreams of love show that there’s also a soft, vulnerable side to her. She has been hurt, and for a moment she gets to believe that love will heal her wounds”, Jokiaho says.

Lund wasn’t familiar with Jekyll & Hyde the musical before Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri’s production. For Jokiaho, the musical is an old favourite.

“I first listened to the musical in 2006 and I’ve been a fan ever since. In theatre school, I often sang Lucy’s songs. I even played the role in a shortened version of the show.”

In auditions for the Finnish production, Jokiaho and Lund auditioned for both Emma and Lucy. Jokiaho says that being cast as Emma gave her a lot to think about.

“When director Anssi Valtonen told me that I had been chosen as Emma, my first reaction was ‘oh no’. Will they give me a blonde wig and a Princess Diana style wedding dress to wear? What can I do with this part? Soon, I understood the role was more than just a girl in love with a boy. Emma’s first line is an insult towards Lady Beaconsfield! The role quickly became dear to me.”

Lund, in turn, was glad to notice how daring her role is.

“I have never had such a bold part. Lucy is a lot of fun to play! It’s also refreshing to act in a musical that doesn’t have a happy ending.”

Classic tale with a new point of view

Long-time Jekyll & Hyde fan Jokiaho says she feels annoyed by the way many productions of the musical treat Emma and Lucy.

“In all the productions I’ve seen, the ladies seem quite one-dimensional. Especially Emma. I sometimes feel irritated by the way she just sings and smiles, even though the story handles really heavy subjects”, Jokiaho explains.

When developing the first concept version of Jekyll & Hyde the musical, the creative team considered casting one actress to play both Emma and Lucy, just like one actor portrays both Jekyll and Hyde. Traces of this consideration remain in the musical today. Jekyll and Hyde represent two sides of man – and therefore two sides of the whole humankind. The duality of woman, then, is presented as two stereotypical extremes: the virtuous bride and the hooker with a heart of gold.

“I think that both I and Maria have made our characters more three-dimensional. Emma and Lucy no longer represent the two extremes of womanhood, there is also a lot of the other side in both characters”, Jokiaho muses on the stereotypic dichotomy.

“As a young actress, I’ve decided that each of my characters has to have a reason for being what they are. I refuse to be a damsel in distress”, she adds.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde doesn’t feature women. By adding two leading ladies, the musical gets to explore themes the original novel doesn’t mention. Both Emma and Lucy are strongly characterized by their love for Henry Jekyll.

“Emma is attracted to Jekyll’s passion for his work. It’s a characteristic that also enchants me in real life. Emma, in turn, brings joy to Jekyll’s life – and that brings them together”, Jokiaho describes her character.

“Lucy falls in love with Jekyll’s unexpected kindness. Jekyll is also a man who lets Lucy to lead the situation. With him, she doesn’t have to worry about the man making demands. But when it comes to Lucy’s relationship with Hyde, it’s Hyde who’s in charge”, Lund says.

When it comes to Lucy’s relationships with Jekyll and Hyde, the musical’s script leaves room for interpretation. When does Lucy realize the two men are actually one and the same? Lund reveals that her Lucy understands the truth when it’s literally too late.

“When Hyde comes to Lucy’s room and sings Sympathy, Tenderness, the song Lucy sang when visiting Dr. Jekyll earlier, she realizes what’s going on. She dies at the moment of that realization.”

Dr. Jekyll’s betrothed Emma finds out about her groom’s secret on the couple’s wedding day. The way Jokiaho interprets it, Emma is having suspicions well before the fatal wedding ceremony.

“After committing murders, a disoriented Jekyll encounters Emma in his laboratory. That’s when her suspicions are awakened. I think Emma doesn’t want to believe what she sees, but in the final scene, she is not surprised. Her worst fears turn out to be true.”

Even though Emma and Lucy sing In His Eyes together, the characters aren’t aware of each other. Lund and Jokiaho say that though their characters don’t meet, their performances have to strike a balance.

“If one of us approached her role with a lot subtler style than the other, the whole show would feel out of balance. In that sense, our interpretations of our characters affect each other”, Jokiaho says.


Pretend violence

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’s tale is a classic horror story, complete with murders and bloodshed. Emma and Lucy are handed their fair share of Mr. Hyde’s cruelty, but that’s no problem for the actresses. Lund says that Lucy’s murder is her favourite scene.

“I have once committed suicide onstage, but this is my first murder. Of course you have to enjoy it, it’s a new experience”, Lund laughs.

“We thought over the murder for a long time. Would it be a knife in Lucy’s back, or would Hyde strangle her? I wished for a really brutal way to go, blood splatters and all, but what we ended up with is good too. I think being strangled and having my neck broken is a fine solution”, she adds.

In Jyväskylä, actors Henri Halkola and Joni Leponiemi alternate in the show’s leading roles. Some details in Jokiaho’s and Lund’s performances change along the leading man. One of these changes can be seen in the musical’s last scene.

“I especially enjoy Henri strangling me”, Jokiaho laughs.

“Joni is a lot gentler. He doesn’t dare to drag me around like Henri does, though his way is fine too. But Henri is such a big guy and has such a firm hold, you don’t really need to act there… There is of course no danger, it’s all pretend. That’s a lot fun, somehow!”

Both Lund and Jokiaho say that it’s always nice returning to Jekyll and Hyde’s London.

“I wouldn’t mind if we had more performances”, Lund says.

Jokiaho agrees.

“No matter how tired I am, I always have energy for this show. I can feel weary when I come to work, but when I put Emma’s jacket on, I’m transformed into a strong high society lady.”

Photos by Jiri Halttunen.
Read more: Jekyll & Jekyll – interview with doctors Jekyll and misters Hyde

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