There was a monster stalking London's streets before either Sherlock Holmes or Jack the Ripper. Mr Hyde was already on his nocturnal prowl. In 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson shocked genteel society with his Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In his slim novella he created fiction’s perfect monster who was, like Jack, the very embodiment of evil…
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde were such a successful double act on both sides of the Atlantic that within just one year Robert Louis Stevenson’s story had been adapted for the stage. The first production was in Boston where the actor, Richard Mansfield triumphed in the creation of Jekyll and his monster Hyde (pictured).
The play was such a huge success that it crossed the Atlantic in 1888 and opened on the Strand at the Lyceum Theatre where Richard Mansfield continued to thrill his audiences.
Mansfield’s transformation from Jekyll into the shrunken, twisted, evil figure that was Edward Hyde with his ‘displeasing smile’ and ‘murderous mixture of timidity and boldness’ was completely terrifying.
However Mansfield's engagement at the Lyceum was forced to close when real life horrors began a mile or so down the road. As far as the newspapers were concerned: ‘There is quite sufficient to make us shudder out of doors.’
A bitter disappointment no doubt for Richard Mansfield. He would have been quite right to take it as an unequivocal testimony to his powers as an actor. Especially when he heard from the police that he had been accused of being the Whitechapel Murderer. One terrified theatre-goer claimed that it was not possible for any actor to make so convincing a stage transformation from a gentleman into a mad killer without truly being homicidal.
There is little doubt that Richard Mansfield was an outstanding actor in everything from Gilbert and Sullivan to the great and testing roles of Shakespeare. The New York Times claimed, 'He was the greatest actor of his hour, and one of the greatest of all times'.
He was not, however, without a modicum of technical help. Mansfield played the first scene as Dr Jekyll while wearing the complete Edward Hyde make-up. The make-up however did not show up in the normal stage lighting. As Mansfield’s transformation started technicians began adding filters to the lighting and slowly the monster was revealed.
Despite this little helping hand, we can’t fail to be impressed that his onstage transformation was so powerful that complaints were made to newspapers. His performance, many believed, was irresponsible and likely to incite some to emulate this theatrical monster in the real world.
Remember that this was not a trick of clever film editing. This actor stood alone on a Victorian stage. Much as the guides of London Walks in the East End every night, conjuring up a vivid picture of the hell on earth that was 19th Century Whitechapel. No costumes, no special effects, without the aid of grubby laminated photographs: just impeccable research and great storytelling powers.
…has a "past". He's sailed across the Pacific in a two-man boat. He's explored the Himalayas. He's an author. He's carved out a successful acting career.* He's True Grit. True North. True to the compass of his beyond perfect surname. Let alone the spun gold of his nickname: Kontiki. He's a brilliant guide. *You'll have seen him in any number of "London" programmes, from London's Burning to The Bill, etc. Richard leads the Jack the Ripper Walk on Friday nights.
Here's DC Editor Adam in search of Jekyll & Hyde with the cast of The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre…
Our Halloween London Walks…
A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.