Mr Hyde and Offshore Immigration Processing: The Dark Side of Good Intentions

Almost twenty-two years ago to the day – 25 May 1990 – Frank Wildhorn’s musical version of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde made its debut in Houston, Texas. Seven years later it enjoyed a 543-show run at the Plymouth Theatre on Broadway. It’s fair to say that the show’s popularity has been in the ascendancy ever since. Now, this hugely successful musical is set to hit the Aussie stage for the first time, opening at the Hayes Theatre Co on 29 July this year.

Cast and crew alone are enough to ratchet up anticipation for this gothic tale of society’s taboos: the musical is the brainchild of aforementioned award-winning American composer Wildhorn; it sees Hayden Tee make his directorial debut; singer-songwriter – but musical theatre newbie! – Brendan Maclean takes on the starring role of Dr Henry Jekyll and his alter-ego, Mr Edward Hyde; and popular performers Brady Peeti and Georgina Hopson have crowd-pleasing appeal. Add Wildhorn’s score and Leslie Bricusse’s lyric to the mix, and the recipe sounds like a winning one.

A Timeless Story?

The story is loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella, which disturbingly captured the zeitgeist of the Victorian era. Scientific experimentation, the duality of man, public versus private – all are there in this ever-popular narrative. This was an age obsessed with public image and prudishness  for example, the introduction of Britain’s first police force in 1829 provided a veneer of respectability – a veneer that masked rampant prostitution and underground crimes.  All was not as it appeared – and the same can be said of some of the decisions taken by our politicians.

This latest musical incarnation yanks the audience into St Jude’s Mental Asylum in post-war London. Protagonist Dr Jekyll is determined to get to the root of his father’s mental illness and believes that the solution is to separate the good from evil that he believes coexist in the human soul. Consequently, his dark side – Mr Hyde – increasingly competes with the socially acceptable façade of Dr Jekyll, and ultimately comes out on top.

So what makes a story set in a world so seemingly different from modern society appealing to modern audiences? Timelessness is what makes a classic a classic – and the theme of hypocrisy is as prevalent today as it ever has been. Human nature dictates that our more unsavoury characteristics and motives are kept hidden from public view, and a more palatable version of ourselves is presented to the world. What is less frequently acknowledged, however, is that the disagreeable often springs from something more worthy: good intentions.

Joining the Dots

Back in 2016, Britons voted to end their entanglement with the European Union. One of the driving factors behind the Brexit referendum was the immigration issue. Six years in, and Britain has made little progress regarding control of its borders, with refugees costing the taxpayer £5 million per day, and leading to the controversial decision to take its cue from Australia and introduce offshore processing, in this case undertaken in Rwanda – over 4000 miles away from the UK. The proposal has been met with wall-to-wall outrage, leaving the Twitterati throbbing with indignation.

This contentious issue at first glance has little to do with a story conceived in the nineteenth century. But look a little closer and the dots begin to join. Dr Jekyll’s experimentation in the sinister side of humanity is born of a desire to make his father well again; his intentions are benevolent. Similarly, it is depressing  (if savvy) to believe that any democratically-elected government would cynically betray its electorate – isn’t it entirely possible that their goal is to fulfil an objective set out in their manifesto?

The problem is that Dr Jekyll gives rein to a malevolence that should have perhaps remained repressed. Lack of knowledge and forethought mean that Jekyll loses control – and evil celebrates. Likewise, Britain may do well to look a little more closely at the Australian precedent and learn from it, before making a move that may appear attractive but prove costly in terms of both funding and human life.

The Aussie Lesson

Australian governments have employed offshore processing as means of tackling illegal immigration for most of this century. And it has had its successes: Tony Abbott’s ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’, introduced in 2013, saw the number of boats arriving on Australian shores drop from 104 to just one within a year. And the number of people making the journey fell from 7,674 to 158 over the same time frame. On the face of it, then, a great success – but these figures mask a huge cost. Within three years, this policy had cost the Australian government – the Australian taxpayer – AUS $9.6 billion. Sending refugees to camps in Papua New Guinea and the atoll of Nauru, over 3000 miles away from Australia, was a costly business. And costs mounted when the Papua New Guinea camp was forced to close in 2016, leading to millions of dollars having to be paid in compensation to those who were illegally detained.

But money isn’t the only cost incurred by this policy: sobering reports of medical neglect, suicide, and detainees being murdered by guards have dogged the scheme’s reputation. A report in The Guardian on 5 December 2021 cites the experiences of former detainees, describing this indefinite warehousing as ‘cruel, costly and inhumane’. This reinforces the findings of Doctors Without Borders in 2018, which determined that of 208 refugees treated, 60 per cent admitted to suicidal thoughts and 30 per cent had actually attempted suicide.

With increasing numbers of boats, organised by unscrupulous traffickers and carrying an exponentially growing number of immigrants, landing around Britain’s coastline every day, the UK clearly has a complex problem. It is understandable that those in power seek solutions. But beyond the initial intention, an ugly truth may well be hidden.

Ultimately, those lucky enough to enjoy the theatrical experience Jekyll and Hyde will not simply be witnessing a story of a good man gone wrong, but of a society potentially gone wrong too. The problem with good intentions, it is said, is that they pave the road to hell.

Amanda Ellison

Amanda Ellison is a writer, teacher and labradoodle owner, hailing from a Northumbrian coastal town in the UK. She writes regularly for various publications, exclusively on subjects she is passionate about – including the arts and current affairs!

Amanda Ellison

2 thoughts on “Mr Hyde and Offshore Immigration Processing: The Dark Side of Good Intentions

  • People think immigration takes jobs away from local people, but I think COVID has shown us exactly how much supply chains rely on these people to fill the gaps work local people don’t want to do!

  • If they can assimilate then I agree, however without screening some may bring ideologies that can impose on our values, hence the need for appropriate screening


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