Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde adapted by Kip Williams from the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Directed by Kip Williams. Performed by Matthew Backer and Ewen Leslie. Designed by Marg Horwell. Lighting design by Nick Schlieper. Composer Clemence Williams, Sound design by Michael Toisuta. Video dwsign by David Bergman Associate director Ian Michael. Assistant video director Sarah Hadley Video editor Suesie Henderson. Fight director Nigel Poulton. Voice and text coach Charmian Gradwell. Lighting Realiser Chris Twyman. Production Manager Kirby Brierty. Stage Manager Sarah Smith. Deputy Stage Manager Brianna Dunn. Assistant Stage Manager Brooke Kiss. Costume coordinator Sam Perkins, Backstage Wardrobe Supervisor Simone. Her Majesty’s Theatre. Adelaide Festival March 3 – 12 2023.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a final version of his Gothic Horror novella Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in three to six days. Kip Williams’s adaptation for the Sydney Theatre Company, currently playing at the Adelaide Festival captures that creative force of the imagination in a riveting and dynamic fusion of video and theatre. Videographers traverse the stage beneath suspended screens, capturing the action and the melodrama cinematically. The duality that is at the very heart of Stevenson’s story is played out by actors Matthew Backer and Ewen Leslie on the stage and then projected onto the screens. Theatre and cinema explode in a fusion of urgency and suspense. Our eyes are drawn inexorably to the screens as close ups draw the audience into the words and thoughts of the characters. The effect is striking, building suspense and tension as Gabriel Utterson (Matthew Backer) pursues the strange case before him. Overlapping images create a feeling of mystery and fascination. Williams’s text is delivered with precisely elocuted earnestness. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a thriller of the Victorian era, shrouded in the mystery and terror of multiple personality disorder. Successful doctor and scientist Dr. Jekyll discovers a drug that can change him into an entirely different person, the rapacious Mr. Hyde, the embodiment of evil created by a man who appears inherently good. Utterson sets out to unravel the mystery of the strange creature who trampled over a young girl in the London fog. The search for answers is told in ten chapters that culminate in a final revelation by Jekyll.
Williams’s inventive use of videography to create both atmosphere and effect once again creates an irresistible fascination. In almost two hours we are totally absorbed .Leslie and Backer alternate as narrator, moving entirely credibly from narrator to character. Leslie wears a white t shirt to differentiate himself from the various characters that he plays. Backer simply interrupts his dialogue to slip into narration. It is conventional storytelling, seamless and intriguing and audiences hang on every word transfixed in their effort to keep up with the rapidly and distinctly delivered dialogue. Williams directs with the eagle eye of a film director, making every moment a visual and visceral experience. Backer is outstanding as the lawyer caught in a vortex of mystery and danger and gradually compelled to submit. Leslie, chameleon like, switches characters with convincing effectiveness. It is remarkable to watch him change from narrator to Utterson’s cousin Enfield , Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde and then to the unfortunate friend Dr. Lanyon, Jekyll’s butler Poole or the manservant at the home of Mr. Hyde.
|Ewen Leslie and Matthew Backer in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde|
In a scene of psychedelic pleasure Jekyll and Utterson give themselves over to the drug induced immersion in pleasurable indulgence in multiple personality. Leslie brings the play to a close with Henry Jekyll’s full statement of the case, a lengthy monologue that exposes Jekyll’s vulnerability and moral conscience. Williams’s production presents a faithful interpretation of Stevenson’s psychological thriller. In a seemingly upright and well regarded doctor, good and evil exist, though not necessarily in equal measure. Leslie’s Mr. Hyde is a fearsome monster, bent over double and weighed down by his evil nature. When Utterson gives over to the drug, he sinks to the floor , a lesser human being. Stevenson’s novella appears shortly prior to the emergence of psychoanalysis. Williams presents a commentary on the universality of the human condition and a view now widely prevalent that good and evil are in constant conflict. Stevenson conceived his story during a dream. Williams creative and illuminating adaptation affirms that this duality is humanity’s eternal nightmare.
Backer and Leslie bring Stevenson’s classic allegory to life with unflinching performances that fire the imagination and compel our engagement, emotionally and intellectually Williams’s use of videography and his skilled team of videographers offer a contemporary and illuminating insight into the complexity of the human condition through the ingenious combination of theatre and film to tell Stevenson’s story. It is a technique that Williams has employed previously as he explores the role of technology in theatre, and a Gothic tale with a universal meaage is the ideal vehicle for Williams’s fertile imagination, his actors, engrossing performamces and the team’s skill and expertise in bringing the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a highlight of the Adelaide Festival.
Photos by Daniel Boud