Sunday, May 24, 2015

Jekyll & Hyde & Lazy Scriptwriting

My Jekyll & Hyde superseries of spring 2015 continues.

So far, I've discussed the concept versions of the musical and the history of J&H stage adaptations. Today, I'm delving into the musical again.

This post is about something I've long claimed but never explained. I've often said I think Jekyll & Hyde the musical's script, written by Leslie Bricusse, is a mess. I've even briefly written about the different script editions previously. But before, I haven't really explained why I think the script is so horrible.

Here, I'll share my top three reasons why I think so.

#1 Mindless murder

The duality of man is no easy subject to tackle, or to understand. So at first, it's almost surprising how simple the musical's point of view seems: Hyde's murders are Jekyll's revenge. Hyde destroys the hospital board one by one because they didn't let Jekyll have his way. Each one also happens to be a horrible bigot, so really, London's better off without them. Or so Hyde thinks.

Until the end of the second act, all makes sense (well, if you don't think too deeply about why Hyde wants to kill the people indirectly responsible for his very existance...). Then logic is thrown out of the window as Hyde murders Lucy for no reason whatsoever.

This has bothered me from the day I first saw the show.


Lucy's death is such a memorable scene and a preface to Jekyll and Hyde's big duet Confrontation, so you'd think it would be justified a bit better. Directors and actors sure have their own interpretations, but the script itself is frustratingly vague. If you look at the written text alone, Hyde kills Lucy for the heck of it.

One could argue that it's meant to be unclear, something the audience can form their own opinions about – but since the other murders all have a motive, I do not believe that. It seems like careless scriptwriting instead. The creative team clearly wanted Hyde to kill someone Jekyll loves. Who knows if they even had reasons for his actions in mind, but they forgot to include any hints in the text.

#2 Remnants

I've written about this previously: the current editions of Jekyll & Hyde the musical are littered with references to plot points that were long ago cut from the show.

Simon Stride and Spider are the most notable examples. Simon Stride is Emma's jealous ex-boyfriend, Spider is Lucy's violent pimp. The show's weird past lives through them – they're superfluous in the current script, yet present in almost every production.

Both Stride and Spider are derived from the concept script's William Scheisse, an honorable doctor by day and a shady enterpreneur by night. In the current editions of the musical, Stride and Spider get their little introductory scenes, and then they're promptly forgotten... until the end of the second act, where Spider sometimes makes a brief return, and Stride gets killed by Hyde. These characters are introduced in a way that makes you think they'll play some larger part in the story, but nothing comes of it.

Other characters that used to have a bigger part are the apothecary called Bisset that has a couple of lines during Murder, Murder, and the prostitute Nellie, featured as anything from Lucy's friend to The Red Rat's madame in different scripts.

The creative team clearly couldn't kill a bunch of their old darlings here. A shame, because their stage time would've been better used improving...

#3 The relationships

Robert Louis Stevenson's original novel doesn't feature romance. Jekyll is a middle-aged bachelor who hangs out with his middle-aged bachelor friends. Most adaptations however give Jekyll a lady love, and the musical is no exception – both Jekyll and Hyde have sweethearts. But actually, in the musical, there are three important relationships in Jekyll's life.

We have Emma Carew, the fiancée. She is kept in the dark about Jekyll's experiment. She doesn't really know what he's doing and certainly doesn't know about Edward Hyde. She figures out that something is wrong, but the truth is only revealed to her in the wedding, and the next moment she is holding her dying husband-to-be in her arms.

Next up is Lucy Harris, the prostitute. She knows both Jekyll and Hyde and, in some way, is drawn towards both. But it's unclear and depends on the production if (and when) she figures out the connection in between the two. Not that it would much matter – in any case, Hyde murders her before the theme is properly explored.

Then there's John Utterson, the friend. Stevenson's original novel focuses on Utterson trying to figure out who Hyde is, and much of that carries over to the musical. Utterson is the one who is present during two crucial scenes: first when Jekyll wants to alter his will in favour of Edward Hyde and lies to Utterson about Hyde's identity, and later when Hyde transforms into Jekyll in front of him.

Out of these three, the relationship in between Jekyll and Utterson is by far the most interesting. Utterson has seen what the ladies only vaguely suspect. He is the only one who knows the full truth – and still, he tries to help and support Jekyll. But since he knows, he is also the one to carry a weapon in his friend's wedding. He is the one to point the gun at him. He either hands Jekyll/Hyde the means to end his own life or, in certain productions, actually kills his best friend himself.

That is fascinating stuff.

Sometimes, there's a touch of romance in this one, too. Looking back at the first Finnish production, it seemed to me that Utterson was secretly in love with Jekyll. I've heard rumours of other productions featuring similar details. But whether their love is romantic or platonic doesn't really matter – script-wise, out of Jekyll's three close relationships, Utterson is in any case the one who affects Jekyll the most. He is the one who could destroy what's left of Jekyll's life, telling Emma about Lucy or even informing the police about the identity of the murderer... But instead, he stays loyal towards Jekyll to the very end.

It's however the ladies who are supposed to be in the focus.

How interesting would it be, having either Emma or Lucy witness Jekyll's transformation before it's too late! Maybe Emma trying to help Jekyll to defeat Hyde, or agonising over if she loves him enough to marry a murderer. Or Lucy, as a last-ditch effort, telling Hyde she knows his secret. Somehow actually putting the women's love to test by showing them the truth about Jekyll earlier in the story.

But no. As it is, there is not much depth to the romances, though half of the scenes are about them.

It's also a shame how two-dimensional all of Jekyll's loved ones are. They're all, Utterson included, stereotypical badly written female characters: all of their actions revolve around a man and they speak of nothing but him. While good actors can do wonders with these paper-thin characters, it's a shame they don't have more material to themselves, especially the women.

Despite all this, I of course love this mess of a show.

I've booked my tickets to the upcoming Finnish and Danish productions and cannot wait for the premieres. Even if they use the worst script editions available and play every trick on the bingo card... Chances are high that I'll enjoy them, in one way or another, be it serious or ironic or guilty pleasure.

As long as you don't think while watching, it's actually a rather solid musical, after all.


  1. We really need some Eurojackpot millions so we can have a theatre of our own and stage a sensibly re-written version of a every Wildhorn musical ever.

    1. The ultimate dream!! The office lottery pool I'm a part of won 40 € last week. My share is about 5 €. That's a start, I guess...

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