Robert Louis Stevenson's oft adapted 1886 novel about duality of personality might almost have been written with a one man show in mind. And in the hands of the outstandingly talented James Hyland, both adaptor and performer, it becomes a very meaty piece indeed.
Bearded, tail coated and wearing striped trousers and a wing collar, Hyland as Jekyll presenting his sinister narrative in the form of a medical lecture, looks every inch an upright, Victorian gentleman – except for one or two mysterious lapses and an odd, sinister glint in the eye. As Hyde he sheds a foot in height, acquires a tic, a slightly hunched back and a speech impediment. Hyde twitches, dribbles, gasps and cackles. He is utterly repugnant and it's a bravura Brechtian-style performance.
Hyland acts with every finger – they're spread as if after a stroke for Hyde and neat and elegant for Jekyll. He even manages to communicate with a protruding tongue tip and every muscle in his face and body. He repeatedly and almost literally – an effective visual metaphor – drops or falls into the Hyde role and then winds upwards out of it to revert to Jekyll. The voice change is impeccably managed too.
Other minor characters Hyland gives us include hecklers at the lecture and two prostitutes, simpering and pleading in falsetto. He evokes a strong sense of ugly sexuality by expressively rubbing the seat of his trousers as Daisy leans suggestively over Hyde. And there's a good moment when Hyde is ruthlessly murdering Polly and she is pleading for mercy. So adept is Hyland at all this that he really does create an illusion of there being several actors present because he is almost unrecognisable as he switches role.
And all this is accomplished on a darkly lit stage with just a lectern and atmospheric music by Chris Warner. Phil Lowe, who directs, is also the set and lighting designer. Tipped sideways said lectern doubles as a dissecting table, bed and – eventually – noticeboard. Otherwise this quasi-masterclass in physical theatre uses no props.
Like Hyland's previous award-winning shows A Christmas Carol – as told by Jacob Marley (Deceased) and Fagin's Last Hour, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is not for the faint hearted. I shall long remember Hyland as Hyde dribbling on the floor, or worse, sipping the blood from the heart he has just removed from the twitching body of a murdered prostitute. Don't miss it on tour. But have your supper first.
- Susan Elkin