A play with split personality

Daniel York plays a struggling artist named Jekyll, who develops a different personality that of a serial killer named Hitler.
Daniel York plays a struggling artist named Jekyll, who develops a different personality that of a serial killer named Hitler.PHOTO: TUCKYS PHOTOGRAPHY

Starring Hitler As Jekyll And Hyde swings between the themes of xenophobia and art

REVIEW / THEATRE

STARRING HITLER AS JEKYLL AND HYDE

The Finger Players

Victoria Theatre/ Thursday

In this latest production from The Finger Players, the character of Eva Braun asks how everything so wrong about her lover Adolf Hitler can feel so right.

  • BOOK IT / STARRING HITLER AS JEKYLL AND HYDE

  • WHERE: Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place

    WHEN: Today, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $35, $45 and $55 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)

Starring Hitler As Jekyll And Hyde generates similar internal conflict in the viewer. It is mesmerising but overlong. It is sometimes confused sound and fury, sometimes exquisitely composed.

It is a play about split personalities, which swings uneasily between two main themes: xenophobia and art. Both demand to be heard, but this production cannot contain them at the same time - much like writer Robert Louis Stevenson's character Jekyll was doomed by the existence of his alter ego Hyde.

Writer-director Chong Tze Chien has used common knowledge about Hitler to construct a parable about present-day protectionism. It begins as a parable told by Braun (the always rewarding Edith Podesta) to explain the World War II German pogrom against Jews. In one of the strongest moments, the cast members come on stage holding signs to mark their real-life ethnic identity - Italian, Eurasian, Chinese, Tamil, Malay - then flips them around to assume the characters of German or Jew.

The parable also contains uneasy digressions into the merits and intrinsic value of art. Perhaps this is because the play was first written for theatre students at the Lasalle College of the Arts in 2013. Perhaps this is because Chong plans a second play about a man who finds one of Hitler's paintings. Whatever the reason, diatribes against art critics and Van Gogh come off as excuses for the inclusion of this theme rather than noteworthy in their own right.

In Starring Hitler As Jekyll And Hyde, a struggling artist named Jekyll fails to make the grade for a prestigious arts academy. (This is historically accurate, Hitler failed to enter the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.) Demented by this failure, Jekyll - superbly and splutteringly acted by Daniel York - develops a different personality, that of a serial killer named Hitler.

Hitler targets Jews, marking them as foreigners taking true Germans' places in the arts school. (Historically inaccurate, Jews have long resided in Germany, but it is in keeping with the character.)

Hitler rises to power and commissions a giant National Gallery to display art curated by Jekyll's only supporter, the gallerist Braun. What could be a chilling representation of how state sponsorship robs art of its humanity and freedom is lost against the more topical theme of a society at war with itself.

The cast is beyond reproach and Joshua Lim is outstanding as the German police officer hot on the trail of the serial killer. Every player is pitch-perfect in multiple roles, from the art critic (Julius Foo) who damns Jekyll, to the collector who dismisses his paintings (Jo Kukathas). Younger players match the veterans easily, with Lian Sutton coming into his own as a young soldier questioning the Jewish internment camps.

The production tries to do too much visually, perhaps in mimicry of an artist's progression through styles. There is shadow play, which is expected, given the troupe's fondness for puppetry. There is unexpected splatterporn. Luckily, Darren Ng's sound and music provide fixed points to anchor the viewer.

In the final 40 minutes, the production settles into a memorable aesthetic. Pairs of actors enact red-and-black scenes of a society turning inwards and cannibalising itself (colour and composition are aided by Anthony Tan's costumes and Lim Woan Wen's lighting). Dual natures are clearly at war and also in chilling harmony. Such moments of balance tip the scale in favour of this play with split personality.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2016, with the headline 'A play with split personality'. Print Edition | Subscribe