What a hold Stevenson’s story still exerts. Chronologically pre-Freudian but psychologically modernist, this most famous anatomy of human duality has been getting itself adapted unabated from 1887, the year after the novella was published, to the present day. At least half a dozen big ones this century alone, with everyone from Adam Baldwin to John Hannah to Dougray Scott lining up to take on the Divided Doctor.
This is the first time I’ve seen his vexatious case subjected to a full musical treatment, although there was a Frank Wildhorn/ Leslie Bricusse version in the US in 1997, not to mention briefer assaults on the subject by our very own The Damned and The Who (you couldn’t have picked apter band names for the task if you’d tried.)
When I say full musical treatment, I’m exaggerating slightly for The Man Inside by Tony Rees and Gary Young is boiled down to a tightly focused chamber piece of three actor/singers, all done and dusted in eighty interval-free minutes.
Inevitably such an approach does what most other attempts have done and excises the initially crucial figure of Gabriel John Utterson, Jekyll’s steadfast lawyer friend through whom the book’s narration functions. Gone too are such characters as the louche and urbane Richard Enfield, who seems to be onto Hyde pretty early, and the late Victorian stalwarts of the anti-scientific Dr. Lanyon, the butler Mr. Poole and Inspector Newcomen of The Yard.
No matter; this three-hander – or should that be four? – scalpels its way to the emotional heart of the business, which is of course the man’s unfortunate capacity, or rather man’s unfortunate capacity, for having virtue and villainy cohabit within his self. As a result the action is all shared out between the eponymous splitso, Jekyll’s wife Katherine and the toothsome hooker Lizzie.
When it’s good, it’s very good, light on its feet and anatomising the impossible contradictions of the hero-cum-anti-hero’s position. As the beyond-immoral Mr. Hyde begins to seize the reins from his decent body-sharer, I found myself being reminded of some towering figure from a contemporary TV series; someone who is made over to profoundly dark behaviour so absolutely that his countervailing impulses are flung aside like fences of balsa-wood.
But who was it? Who is it? Of course; it’s Walter White, the scientifically brilliant but morally challenged anti-hero of the American classic Breaking Bad.
It’s almost all sung, and the singing you can’t fault, least of all that of West End veteran Dave Willetts as the man himselves, by turns powerful and tender as he shuttles between rage and remorse. Under Robert McWhir’s directorship, the Landor has been as good as its word in pledging top performances of musical roles, and to say that Alexandra Fisher’s Katherine and Jessie Lilley’s Lizzie don’t shame the tradition is meant as high praise.
The treatment is not without its problems. As I say, it’s virtually all song, rather than recitatif or dialogue. Nothing wrong with that; smart in fact, except where the thing starts to sound as if it has been, so to speak, written by numbers. In this respect the words are somewhat the Hyde to the music’s Jekyll. The often maligned word content of the genre is not going to recruit admirers through such lethal outbreaks as “my destiny is calling, my faith will see me through…. whisper that you love me….. we can’t go on like this…. you are my future, my life is in your hands…. I dare not trust myself…. she must not know…. I don’t know what to do.”
Me neither. These snatches are not from one particular song. They just keep coming, faster than I could take them down in the dark. Tim Rice, famously maligned, becomes Noel Coward by comparison. I can’t explain it. Tony Rees and Gary Young have excellent, indeed international credentials. What went wrong, or is it just me? I wondered whether it was a case of the music person over-straying into the province of the words one and so compromising the identity of the composite. If so, it’s a dreadfully appropriate affliction for Stevenson’s work. But if R.L. had been around, he would surely have handed it over to the prosecutor within and cried murder.
Review by Alan Franks
The Man Inside
A re-imagining of the Jekyll and Hyde dilemma that Robert Louis Stevenson pursued in 1886. In this contemporary version of the story, can love save Jekyll from the tragedy that his passions lead him to, or will he take the potion to justify his self-serving needs? The romantic and dramatic music of this drama is thrilling and intoxicating, and Dave Willetts’ sympathetic portrayal of the complex character is extraordinary.
The Man Inside has music by Tony Rees and book and lyrics by Tony Rees and Gary Young, with additional material by Dave Willetts and orchestrations by Matheson Bayley. It is directed by Robert McWhir, with musical direction by Matheson Bayley. It is produced by Theatrica Ltd. in collaboration with The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham.
Wednesday 12th March to Saturday 29th March 2014
THE LANDOR THEATRE
70 Landor Road, London SW9 9PH
Performances: Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm, Saturday and Sunday at 3.00pm
Friday 14th March 2014