When flirting with the intricate multiplicity of human nature, spiralling into folly is unavoidable.
The creative geniuses behind the 2022 Adelaide Festival hit The Picture of Dorian Gray return in 2023 with an equally extraordinary production. Robert Louis Stevenson’s literary classic, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, is elevated to exceptional heights in Kip Williams’ theatrical adaptation (Sydney Theatre Company). Starring Matthew Backer and Ewen Leslie, the production is a seductively hypnotic yet sophisticated experience. One that considers an individual’s diversity and vulnerability.
With Designer Marg Horwell, Video Designer David Bergman, Lighting Designer Nick Schlieper, Composer Clemence Williams, and Sound Designer Michael Toisuta, Williams has devised a production that transcends theatre as it is traditionally known. A traditional period drama is thrust into modern opulence by fusing live theatre and film—live and pre-recorded.
With videographers and stagehands in plain sight, the stage engineering resembles a flawlessly choreographed dance. Working closely with Backer and Leslie, the synchronicity of their movements is seamless. The crew are seen, but they do not undermine the performance. Then again, the performers are so captivating and the narrative so compelling it is challenging to divert attention away from them.
Backer and Leslie’s performances are remarkable. Backer as humble lawyer Gabriel Utterson tackles being on stage for almost two hours with seeming ease. Invoking the lawyer’s emotions, he draws us into his exploration of truth via emotive facial expressions, passionate monologues, and pensive silences. We hang on to every word he says. Meanwhile, Leslie’s portrayal of multiple characters with several costume and dialect changes, often in single scenes, is nothing short of astounding.
The actors’ rapport is palpable. It accentuates the numerous relationships depicted and further enamours us with their characters. The professionalism and talent displayed by both make a clearly complex production appear flawless. Even a medical emergency in the Dress Circle halting the show for thirty minutes does not hinder their performance.
In his novella, Stevenson examines the duality of human nature trope. That good and evil exist in all. Williams’ adaptation articulates notions Stevenson implies in his novella. The idea that multiplicity, not duality, is the essence of human nature, that the darkest elements of oneself yearn to be shared with like-minded people, is thrust into the spotlight for scrutiny. What Stevenson couldn’t say due to moral parameters in 1886, Williams does.
This adaptation is delicate in parts, impassioned in others. Pre-recorded and live video footage across six separate moving screens allows narrative progression. It captures the activities of an ensemble cast while only having one or two actors on stage at any given time. At times, the action occurs within a fully enclosed area. It is only visible to us via screens projecting live video. Simple actions become grandiose through the art of technology. Walking up a staircase is breathtaking to witness.
With this production Williams successfully balances inquisitiveness and revelation, the journey and the outcome. This results in many edge-of-your-seat moments that ultimately build to a crescendo of madness.
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is electrifying contemporary theatre at its greatest. It is a spectacle that must be seen to be believed.
Adelaide Festival Review By Anita Kertes
For tickets and show information for Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde head to the Adelaide Festival