Saturday 16th March 2014, matinée
Our first question on hearing about ‘The Man Inside’, a new musical from Tony Rees and Gary Young at the Landor Theatre, was ‘Does the world need another adaptation of the Jekyll and Hyde story?’ We very much doubted it – as we pointed out in our review of Frank Wildhorn’s musical version, this is a story which has been mined extensively already. However, the desire to see Dave Willetts on stage again, after he was so gloriously creepy as the butler in Craig Revel Horwood’s revival of Sunset Boulevard, was irresistible.
‘The Man Inside’ promises a contemporary re-imaging of the Jekyll and Hyde story, but it is largely a fairly straight retelling of the story, using the original Victorian setting. The final ‘twist’ manages to be less sophisticated psychologically than Stevenson’s original and if you try to guess what it is you will probably be right. The problem is that the authors haven’t found a modern framework for this story of good versus evil, and it remains stuck in the narrow Victorian obsession with sexual mores, with the violence becoming almost an after-thought.
The eighty minute running time makes it difficult to tell the story in any depth, but this needn’t have been a problem if there had been a sense of narrative drive or some economy in the story-telling. As it is there are too many songs which don’t really push the story forward, and whilst the music is pleasant enough and suitably dramatic during the scenes of transformation, there seems to be a lot of repetition in the themes of the songs, and by the end, with a few notable exceptions, such as Lizzie’s music hall turns, they become almost unwelcome interruptions. The staging itself is well done, with an austere and simple setting that is very evocative, and the use of lighting with minimal props and scenery is very effective.
Dave Willetts brings authenticity to his portrayal of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He creates two distinct characters with just his voice and physicality and transcends the lack of pace in the story with an aura of menace and tension, building to the climax with relentless energy. He also captures one of the aspects of the story that is often ignored – that Dr Jekyll is also unhinged in his own way – an obsessive fanatic who is prepared to risk his own psyche to achieve his ambition, however altruistic that might be. In the words of Banksy ‘There’s nothing more dangerous than someone who wants to make the world a better place.’ This might almost be a one man show, but for the two women in his life. As devoted fiancée, Alexandra Fisher doesn’t have a lot to work with – we would have liked to see something revealing a darker side, or perhaps less selfless motives, but she is doomed only to sing a series of adoring love songs. Jessie Lilley manages to inject warmth, fun and spirit into the hopelessly clichéd ‘tart with a heart’, Lizzie, making the journey a little more bearable.
Overall, this production has a high quality cast and is well directed, but sadly this was not enough to make the material fly. Which brings us back to our original question. Perhaps it is time to give this tortured soul a rest.