BWW Reviews: THE MAN INSIDE, Landor Theatre, March 13 2014
Is there room for another re-working of "The Strange case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde"? I'd have said no. But Tony Rees and Gary Young thought otherwise and the result is "The Man Inside", a musical delivered all through with the cast cut to the doctor/devil and two women who also represent opposite natures.
With Martin Thomas' set serving as a drawing room, laboratory and Victorian street (beautifully lit by Richard Lambert), Dave Willetts is soon tempted by the potions he concocts to separate good and evil, and by Jessie Lilley's showgirl-on-the-make, Lizzie. Inevitably, Jekyll's alter-ego calls him too regularly for comfort and, risking his forthcoming marriage to prim and proper Katherine (Alexandra Fisher), he descends to mayhem and murder.
The music, under Mattheson Bayley, is tremendous - a piano keyboard hammered mercilessly, reflecting the turmoil on stage and in minds, supported by a plaintive, often plucked, cello, the balance of voices and instruments perfect for this intimate space. Voices were often, but not always, amplified, which added drama exactly when needed, an approach that worked particularly well for Ms Lilley, whose Dickensian character was no less tragic for its familiarity.
If the music is a welcome addition to the well-worn story, the emphasis on exploring the limits of individual responsibility for heinous crimes appears less successful. In the programme, Tony Rees writes, "Can we always blame "the man inside", or some form of drug dependancy, or do we just fail to realise it is up to us to draw the line of our own personal accountability?" Now that's an interesting question but hard to compress into an 80 minutes all-through musical. Perhaps there is room for more medical input in the writing and for a fuller exploration of the issues in a longer production.
So is there room for "The Man Inside" amongst so many versions Stevenson's classic tale? I'm (ahem) in two minds about that. The "message" isn't worked through, the storyline is relentlessly grim, but the music is spectacular and the theme contemporary. Let me mix myself a cocktail and ponder some more...
The Man Inside continues at the Landor Theatre until 29 March.