Returning to the Lyceum for the first time in 20 years, veteran actor Forbes Masson has the unenviable task of enrapturing the audience for 70 minutes in Gary McNair’s Jekyll & Hyde, a one-person adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s seminal novella. Stripped back to a raw testimony from the novella’s narrator, Gabriel John Utterson, it’s a bold choice and one that doesn’t necessarily pay off.
As the lights dim, Masson takes to the stage, microphone in hand, to make an announcement: “I’m not the good guy.” It’s an effective start, promising the exploration of the binaries between good and evil that the original work is known for. Something worth keeping in mind.
Holding the audience’s attention for the full 70-minute runtime is a mean feat, and it’s evident from the shifting in seats when they begin to drift. Perhaps that’s a result of there being very little dynamism on stage; the minimalist staging and lighting means the focus is solely on Masson. While you might gladly listen to him read the phonebook, there needs to be more to hold the audience’s attention. A conversation between Utterson and Jekyll boils down to Masson passing a hat back and forth between hands to denote the speaker, which feels both uninspired and drab.
You likewise have to wonder whether the use of harsh flashes of strobe lights to signal scene changes – a nod to the supposed dualism at work – also holds the purpose of galvanising the audience, snapping them out of whatever malaise they may have slipped into.
That’s not to besmirch Masson’s performance. As Utterson, he recounts the strange tale with an almost manic obsession, and there are subtle shifts in voice and costume that denote the experiences of others: a boisterousness to Richard Enfield, a pair of glasses and demure softness to Dr. Lanyon. At no point do these shifts feel excessive and, rather deftly, there’s always an element of Utterson that shines through – reminding us that we’re receiving this information third-hand.
Unfortunately, these reminders often come in the form of witty asides that feel incongruous and forced. They extract a wry chuckle here and there, but otherwise fall a little flat – yes, we’ve seen Fleabag; no, not everything needs to follow that style. Sadly, it means McNair’s attempt to update the source material and inject some further character to Utterson comes across more as pandering than anything else.
Ultimately, McNair does little to truly reinvent The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There’s a last-minute twist that turns the entire production on its head, casting aside the more fantastical elements and making the audience question everything they know. Ordinarily, this would be ingenious, but the fact that it comes in the final moments makes it feel rushed and unearned. Had more time been devoted to planting the seeds through the play’s earlier scenes, it would be far more effective.
That’s the irony of Jekyll & Hyde. There’s promise at its heart, but it just needs a slightly more potent serum to fully unleash what lurks within.