Opening the Adelaide Festival is one of the most famous pieces of English literature, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a 1886 gothic novella by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson.
A defining book of the gothic horror genre, this novella has had a significant impact on popular culture, with the phrase ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ being used in colloquial speech to suggest people with an outwardly good but internally disturbingly evil nature as having two personalities.
The story follows the protagonist, Gabriel Utterson, a London-based lawyer who investigates a series of strange occurrences between his old friend Dr Henry Jekyll and a murderous criminal named Edward Hyde. Becoming obsessed to save his friend, Utterson is determined to uncover the links between them, and in the process comes face to face with the disturbing truth.
Brought to Adelaide by the same prodigious genius team of The Picture of Dorian Gray, director Kip Williams has transformed this old story by using a juxtaposition of live filming, moving screens and multimedia – what has now been dubbed Cine-theatre.
As per the directors’ notes, while the Jekyll/Hyde myth has been used to describe the duality of human nature, this version departs from that conformist understanding and examines multiplicity at the core of human experience and how we explore the countless whims and desires that exist within us.
Themes such as the above noted dualities – good versus evil, human versus animal, civility versus barbarism as well as the Victorian concern over public and private persona are dissected throughout, as well as the often-disregarded friendship, whether platonic or otherwise, between Jekyll and Utterson.
Within Williams’ adaptation of the intimacy of the relationship between the two, is a modern and vibrant moment, similar to a scene from Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
This scene provides the only burst of colour amidst a stark black and white stage.
The formidable team of composer Clemence Williams and sound designer Michael Toisuta bring suspense and surround sound to both the filmed and live aspects of the show. The stylised sound palette infused mystery and intrigue, not unlike the genre of film noir and classic detective stories.
Designer Marg Horwell, with lighting by Nick Schlieper and video design by David Bergman, along with the complete video operator team and set crew, manage to create a complete visual feast; live components of theatre and filming, set against pre-recorded scenes, with several screens that seamlessly change orientation throughout and sets and backdrops that swivel and rotate around the characters effortlessly through shadows of light.
The simply brilliant staircase scene must be seen to be believed, drawing audible gasps from the audience.
The two performers, Matthew Backer and Ewan Leslie are absolute powerhouses, as they narrate in third person and perform scenes simultaneously.
Backer, as Gabriel Utterson, is measured, understated, and refined and is tasked with the responsibility of establishing the show with convincing perspective.
Leslie, proves what a magnificent and versatile actor he is, playing not only the good Doctor and the villainous Hyde, but covers the narrator, Utterson’s cousin Richard Enfield, the ill-fated Dr Lanyon, Inspector Newcomen and Jekyll’s butler Mr Poole with impressive torment and cheeky smirks blanketing his elastic face and transforming his voice.
Both are incredibly captivating and utterly glorious.
With no interval, I was initially perplexed, however once entrenched in this steamroller of immersive and intoxicating theatre, you don’t want out until the very end.
Visceral, enthralling and sophisticated, make sure you put this one on your festival viewing list!