Jekyll & Hyde – Original Theatre Online

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Director: Michael Fentiman

Writer: Gary McNair

One-performer shows of multicast classics are having a bit of a moment. Vanya has just won Andrew Scott a Critics Circle award and Sarah Snook’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is wowing audiences with its daring approach to retelling Oscar Wilde’s (im)morality tale.

In a production filmed for Original Theatre Online, the Robert Louis Stevenson novella, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, is stripped of its cast of characters. Forbes Masson, whose credits include The Crown and Catastrophe, steps onto a deserted stage. Only a chair and a microphone for props, and a stark LED outline draw a boundary between him and the audience. He introduces himself as “not the good guy of the story”. From this point, Masson becomes the narrator and the cast. Changes in character are denoted by the buttoning of a waistcoat or the adoption of a pince-nez.

He is first Utterson, who is Dr Jekyll’s friend and lawyer. Utterson defies our expectations of a late-Victorian, middle-class gentleman. He keeps all sorts of company, and it is an underworld associate, Mr Enfield, who relates a harrowing incident to him as he sees an 8-year-old girl trampled to death by a strange, devilish man. The culprit is caught by her family, and they are asked to “name their price” in exchange for not going to the police. £100 does it: a grim transaction. Utterson flinches as Mr Enfield reveals the villain’s name: Mr Hyde. Utterson reveals this is the same man who has persuaded Jekyll to alter his will entirely in his favour. In trying to ascertain the hold Hyde seems to have on Jekyll, Utterson is taken on a “dark journey” that will question even his easy sensibilities.

In his adaptation of the Scottish classic, Gary McNair reinvigorates it with contemporary nuance. Without the usual soot and fog to recreate Stevenson’s murky atmosphere, language fills the gaps. The censor is removed: Masson’s use of expletives absolutely fits the narrative; an exploration of the complexity in relaying personal experience to another casts an existential hue which doesn’t feel out of place either. McNair steers us towards the essential truth of Stevenson’s novella.

Published in 1886, it does not condone or confront the social and sexual transgressions of Mr Hyde. McNair taps into the absence of paternalistic finger-wagging and reveals a modern interpretation of the text. Adaptations of this story are myriad, but what this version does – and very effectively – is to prove how little window dressing Stevenson’s tale actually needs. A virtually bare stage, and one actor. A network of “unsettling” Victorian alleyways is sketched in our mind’s eye.

A large part of the production’s success is down to Forbes Masson’s performance. He modulates between acting for the live audience and those watching online. The camera picks up fragmentary changes in his expression – the horror is never overplayed. Masson’s presence fills the stage. He is, by turns, theatrical and intimate. As the play draws to a close, and we finally know the truth, the effect chills. But then, we had been warned.

Available here

The Reviews Hub Score

Highly effective

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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