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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows, and various online archives preserve still more vintage productions. Even as things return to normal we continue to review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Jekyll And Hyde
Original Theatre Online   April 2024

This solo show, written by Gary McNair and performed by Forbes Masson, sits at the intersection of storytelling and theatre, and generates an eerie, atmospheric and satisfyingly scary hour out of Robert Louis Stevenson's novella of good and evil.

McNair follows Stevenson (and not most of the film and theatre adaptations) in having the story told by Utterson, a casual friend of Dr Jekyll.

But more even than the novel, this version is really about Utterson, with Hyde relevant only because of the ways he affects the narrator and Jekyll little more than a barely-sketched-in minor background figure.

As in all previous tellings we will eventually learn (but not until literally the last two minutes) that scientist Jekyll experimented in separating his good and evil natures, setting loose his darkest side in the form of Hyde.

But there is no secret laboratory or mention of chemical potions, just that he somehow created and then could not control Hyde.

That omission, and the fact that the actor plays Utterson through 90% of the hour, only occasionally giving voice to other characters, means that the 'how' and 'why' of Jekyll's experiment are barely touched on we're told that he had a bit of a wild youth and left with the suggestion that he might be nostalgic for those uninhibited days.

So this is not a Frankenstein story of a scientist tempted to go too far, or a cautionary parable of a creator unable to control his monster. In the hands of writer McNair and actor Masson it is the horror story of the ordinary man Utterson brought face to face with pure evil and traumatised by the experience.

The moral of the story is not anything about the limits of science but a warning that there is something dangerous in innocence that is not aware of how very, very evil pure evil can be, and perhaps even something culpable, since it is such ignorance, such inability or refusal to comprehend it, that allows evil to flourish.

As directed by Michael Fentiman, Forbes Masson creates and sustains the sense of what is at first vague uneasiness and then a smothering sense of all-pervading decay and menace on an essentially bare stage, aided by subtly atmospheric sound (Richard Hammerton) and lighting (Richard Howell) effects.

Gary McNair's text can be very evocative - a night has 'the kind of dark that has you instinctively reaching out for your mother's hand' but is also marred by clashing anachronistic slips like the message that the reclusive Jekyll 'would like some space,' that a friendly gift is 'a Care package,' and that a moment's impatience inspires an irritated 'Fuck off!'

Apart from those few slips, though, the evocation of horror and dread is successful and sustained through the hour, and the shifts in focus from the titular characters to the witness hold and intrigue even those who think they know all there is to Stevenson's tale.

This production by the Reading Rep, staged at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum theatre in January 2024, is online via Original Theatre Online.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Jekyll And Hyde - Original Theatre Online 2024
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