The Silent Treatment
Mental health issues get the silent treatment in Aileen Power’s light dark comedy “Hyde and Seek.” Silent movie treatment that is, in this non-verbal production exploring toxic friendships. Or toxic inner voices. If a little unclear, a betting person would probably bet on the latter. Playing as part of the annual First Fortnight festival, “Hyde and Seek” resembles a low budget version of “Inside Out.” One whose cartoonish overtones are deeply enmeshed with Max Sennett or Hal Roach silent movie stylings. The end result is an ambitious and heartfelt production, which, if not all there yet, shows Power as a theatre maker of some serious promise.
Following an unnamed psychology student with a crush on her class mate, “Hyde and Seek” explores how a negative inner voice can derail self confidence whilst also dashing any hopes of a relationship. With little meat on either its dramatic or comedic bones, “Hyde and Seek” soon settles into a simple, ‘will they, won’t they’ affair. Narratively built on a series of under developed comedic set pieces often involving pens, it soon becomes narratively, and visually, predictable. As her inner nemesis tip toes about, and generally acts like a cartoon shoulder devil or angel from a Tom and Jerry short, the young girl spirals into darker places. Yet efforts to give “Hyde and Seek” weight, especially when it comes to self harm, never entirely convince for it never gets the balance right. Even if the end shows some considerable promise, visually as well as textually.
Theatrically, “Hyde and Seek” suffers several basic problems, beginning with a cliched soundtrack that feels far too naive. Featuring Sennett-like chase music, or songs sounding like they’ve been spliced from a 1970s children’s TV programme, to snippets of classic themes obviously used, it overstays its welcome and lends proceedings an Ireland’s Own style lightness. Even its dildo gags look uneasily innocent, like a good girl trying to tell bad girl jokes. Lighting too is often problematic. Even allowing for the restrictions of the venue, some basic masking frequently causes unnecessary shadow. Something its two directors fail to resolve, with “Hyde and Seek” being a case of two heads not being better than one. One suspects that in this, her first outing, Power as writer and director wanted a more experienced directorial hand alongside her own. Yet she should have trusted her own instincts, or gone with a more experienced director than the marginally more experienced, if well intentioned, Daniel O’Brien.
To call “Hyde and Seek” physical theatre would be something of a stretch. Rather it’s a case of silent movie styled, cartoonish conventions being loosely transposed to the stage. Often with a serious lack of rigour, as a sloppy mirroring scene makes all too obvious. Indeed, all cast members are poorly served by both directors when it comes to physicality. Daniel O’Brien as the love interest, a sort of hapless Harold Lloyd minus the glasses and the energy, often looks like an extra from a 1970s variety sketch, and is often just as compelling. Saoirse Siné as the inner demon is severely restricted to playing it like a cartoon villain, even though she looks like she has a lot more in the tank to offer. Only Hayley McCormack gets something of a grip on it all, often looking hugely expressive. But, like her fellow cast members, she often settles into a groove and is not challenged to deliver the so much more she so obviously has. Indeed, nearing the end, when all three look like they’ve finally run out of physical cliches, they begin to create some incredibly interesting theatrical moments that are visually captivating. But, by then, it's too little, too late.
All that said, it also needs to be said that there’s something wonderfully engaging about “Hyde and Seek” despite all the inexperience. Something that manages to sustain interest, if not always rewarding it, for the entire seventy-five minutes. Moments that slip the reins of cliche, like its clever use of projections or the final scene, that often spark with a lively theatrical intelligence. If “Hyde and Seek” is not the finished product, it does have moments of beauty. One hopes that now Power has got the visually obvious out of her system she can challenge herself to venture into her own silent places she only allows us to glimpse. For with “Hyde and Seek” you come away wanting to hear more of Power's voice, and not the voices of the shoulders she stands upon. For one suspects hers is a voice that might well be worth hearing.
“Hyde and Seek” by Aileen Power runs at St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services as part of First Fortnight until January 13.
For more information on “Hyde and Seek” and other First Fortnight events, visit First Fortnight