It is London, 1884, and fifteen years have passed since the serum of Doctor Henry Jekyll was released into the native population, shattering the walls of self and allowing the eight vapours of the mind to drift: surprise, anticipation, disgust, sadness, trust, anger, joy and fear. Only through the Device can they be brought back into balance to allow the individual to become a productive and safe member of society, fulfilling their proscribed role, but as a consequence it also subdues personality, individuality.
Refusing to be cowed into submission, the six girls had ambition but the Device thought otherwise, thus the engineer was directed to be a labourer, the writer was assigned administration, the diplomat told to become a mistress, the explorer a courier, the scientist a nurse; when they pursued their interests they were seized as dissidents and set as an example why conformity must be obeyed in order to preserve the harmony of a society made perfect by the Device.
In the broad stripes, ribbons and bows and decorative cogs of steampunk the six performers of Hide (Leah Reeves as Flo, Lily Coull as Ada, Emily Pauley as Emme, Hannah-May Coull as Milli, Lucy Parkinson as Elizabeth and Meg Beeson as Hattie) step among the neon and strike defiant poses to a soundtrack from synth pop to plaintive acoustic ballads as they strive to throw a wrench in the machinery which seeks to define them.
Though the divide is never made explicit in the text it is inescapable that the performers onstage are all female while the disembodied voices who confine them and try to tell them what to do are all male, Ada aware that even their existence is seen as a threat to the status quo: “You don’t isolate and restrict the movement of something that is harmless.”
The lighting simple but effective yet allowing for great variation, much of the stylised movement between scenes is lost in shadow yet in a show which is too rushed it might be better to lose it entirely, for a scant forty five minutes is already insufficient in which to fully explore the themes of the play or the conspiracy uncovered by the defiant sextet as they intercept a government communication which indicates the Jekyll was not responsible for the accident which established this repressive new order, his tale and that of Edward Hyde told by shadow puppets.
It is rare to say that a Fringe show needs to be longer, but that scene is one of the few which feels complete, the persistent rush to deliver complex dialogue elsewhere leaving the cast little time to breathe let alone truly perform or for the audience to absorb what is occurring so desperate is the need to complete the piece in the allotted time, and with further development and expansion from writer Matt Beames and focused and supportive direction from Daniel Hill this could become a solid piece of empowering theatre which should have no reason to hide itself.