Adelaide Festival Review: Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Image credit: Daniel Boud
FIFTY+SA Arts Reviewer, Dave Bradley, shares his thoughts on Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde playing at Her Majesty's Theatre for Adelaide Festival.

WORDS: Dave Bradley

After last year’s staging of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray, the same creative team and the Sydney Theatre Company tackle Robert Louis Stevenson’s legendary 1886 novella, and it’s similarly unforgettable. And, despite the age of the original tale and our extreme overfamiliarity with the thing, the results are also surprisingly creepy at times.

Again written and directed by Kip Williams, this has only two players on the stage performing all the roles, with Matthew Backer as the lawyer Utterson, who investigates the mystery surrounding the connection between the virtuous Dr. Henry Jekyll and the feared Mr. Hyde. It must be said that some audiences might find the usage of Stevenson’s text a little peculiar, because his tale makes Utterson essentially the protagonist, while Jekyll and Hyde are almost secondary characters. And we’re all so damn used to multiple movie versions where Jekyll is the focus – and there’s no real mystery at all.

Ewen Leslie plays Jekyll, Hyde and many others, and the opening sequence (and first chapter) depicted the now-famed sequence where a stunted (and hairy) Hyde beats a child – a scene in movie versions that normally occurs about halfway through – and set the standard for the extraordinary technical tricks to follow. Four huge screens moved as if with a life of their own, and showed either monochrome-like images of the action on the stage or, at times, David Bergman’s prerecorded clips amongst which the players often moved via superimposition.

However, the actors could be seen actually playing to cameras that moved with them, with black-garbed-and-masked stagehands pushing huge partitions that shifted the story from location to location (and occasionally deliberately obscured it). Designer Marg Horwell allowed us to watch the lampposts being wheeled on, the smoke machine billowing, and more, with certain moments (the late-on horror-movie staircase that leads on, and on, and on, to Jekyll’s room, for example) so perfectly executed that it was just about breath-taking.

The utilisation of the screens was very much in keeping with a plot that’s all about fractured identities and sudden, scary change, and Clemence Williams’ musical score is wonderful uncanny until it’s properly revealed that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person (spoilers?), and the monster from the id is unleashed, in full colour and in a truly fabulous (and obviously exhausting) dance number.

A medical emergency on this, the opening night, stopped the performance for more than 20 minutes, but the spell wasn’t broken at all.

One of the highlights of this year’s Festival, this is a must-see, and rather leaves you wondering what this team might do next. Frankenstein? Dracula? The Haunting? The Day Of The Triffids? Creature From The Black Lagoon, perhaps?

Why the Hell not?

Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

until 12 March

Her Majesty’s Theatre


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