Monday, August 6 1888
In view of the very considerable stir made by the rival adapters of "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," it is possible that the public may have formed an exaggerated idea both of the dramatic merits of that work and of the power with which the dual personality of the central character is, or can be, presented on the stage. If Mr. Mansfield's appearance at the Lyceum on Saturday night caused just a shade of disappointment to fall upon the large and critical house that assembled in his honour, the effect is to be ascribed, perhaps, as much to an abuse of the "puff preliminary" as to any shortcomings in the actor's performance of his difficult, and somewhat oppressive task. There is but little scope for acting in what has been described as Mr. Stevenson's "psychological study." As applied to the dramatic version of Mr. Stevenson's book, the accuracy of the word "psychological" is open to question. There is no transfusion of thought or character between "Dr. Jekyll" and "Mr. Hyde." In look, dress, and action they are wholly distinct individuals; and Mr. Mansfield's appearances, now in the one part and now in the other, involve no more psychology than the "business" of a "quick-change artiste" in the music-halls. There is much more psychology, for example, in Mr. Irving's impersonation of Mathias in The Bells, where the conscience-stricken burgomaster leads a double life - one in the society of his family and friends, the other in the solitude of his chamber. But except in the hands of a master, psychology is of small account on the stage, which deals much more effectively with the cardinal passions. It is with no regret that we note the absence of the psychological element from the dramatic version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Much more important from the dramatic point of view is the absence of that conflict of passions or interests from which dramatic action springs. For Dr. Jekyll's engagement to the daughter of Sir Danvers Carew, whom, as Mr. Hyde, he murders, never assumes the dignity of a motive at all, or, indeed, appears in any light but that of a passing and wholly immaterial incident. The play is thus reduced to a mere string of episodes in connexion with the dual character of its hero. First Dr. Jekyll appears; next Mr. Hyde; then, after the metamorphosis has occurred a few times behind the scenes, Mr. Hyde changes into Dr. Jekyll under the eye of the house, but with "lights down," when he mixes and drinks his mysterious powders in Dr. Lanyon's study; finally Dr. Jekyll involuntarily falls back into the repulsive shape of Mr. Hyde, as he is looking out of a balcony at the back of the stage, and, having now exhausted his supply of "salt," takes poison and dies. Instead of trying to preserve or to suggest the identity of the two men in their different shapes, Mr. Mansfield, wisely, no doubt, in view of the importance of broad effects, presents them as separate characters, Dr. Jekyll being a somewhat bland and platitudinous philanthropist, who has a tendency to grope with his right hand in the region of his heart, while Mr. Hyde is a crouching, Quilp-like creature, a malignant Quasimodo, who hisses and snorts like a wild beast. As Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Mansfield does not strike one as an actor of remarkable resource; as Mr. Hyde, however, he plays with a rough vigour or power which, allied to his hideous aspect, thrills the house, producing a sensation composed in equal measure of the morbidly fascinating and the downright disagreeable. Studies of the horrible are not usually attractive to the public, who, after all, go to the theatre mainly for the purpose of being pleasantly entertained and lifted out of themselves. The truth of this axiom playwrights have more than once found to their cost. Still The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde appeals in a certain degree to the love of the occult which is deeply implanted in the human mind, and it may for that reason be able to hold its place in the Lyceum bill.