Saturday 15 March 2014

The Man Inside @ The Landor Theatre

Robert Louis Stevenson's story of Jekyll and Hyde has proved to be a rich source for adaptations, least of all the musical from Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden that premiered on Broadway in 1997.  The Man Inside, a new one act musical based on the same split personality conceit, doesn't do anything particularly wrong, but it never stands out from the shadow of the original work or the former musical adaptation.

Tony Rees and Gary Young's book strips back the plot to focus on a single love triangle between the doctor (Dave Willetts), his wife-to-be Katherine (Alexandra Fisher) and Lizzie, a prostitute and music hall performer (Jessie Lilley).  It's a slim and concise narrative that proves to be a little too simplistic, with some other characters merely alluded to and action awkwardly occurring off-stage.  There is little dialogue but an impressive number of songs, leading to a disjointed narrative thread with a final twist that feels tacked on.

The writers have taken more of a psychological approach to the Jekyll/Hyde personality, but fail to bring anything novel to the story.  Instead, there is a lack of physical transformation - it's hard to believe the other characters cannot see through the change.  Willetts offers an intense performance with a powerful and characterful vocal that morphs where the music allows, but his character never truly meets the consequences of his actions.  More so, the female characters are disappointingly shallow.  Despite some excellent singing from Fisher and a tough yet vulnerable performance from Lilley, the two characters represent their own clichéd dichotomy: that of the wife and the whore.  The relationships between the young women and the older doctor simply don't seem credible.

Rees' music provides plenty of mood, ranging from music hall to sweeping Lloyd Webber romanticism.  Full orchestration would certainly enrich the show's memorable, if repetitive, tunes, though there's nothing quite as grand as This Is The Moment.

Although the show is clearly meant as a star vehicle for Willetts, the real star is Richard Lambert's lighting design.  Striking and stylistic, it varies from warm naturalism to monochromatic spotlights and terrific use of colour, and is responsible for much of the show's gothic atmosphere.

Yet it's this sense of gothic horror that's missing from the production.  The Man Inside is certainly an enjoyable and highly professional show, but it all feels a little too polished and slick - too much Jekyll and not enough Hyde.  What's needed is an injection of raw gutsiness to make this really come alive.


Watch: The Man Inside runs at the Landor Theatre in Clapham until the 29th March.