Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

(By Robert Louis Stevenson; Sydney Theatre Company adaption and direction by Kip Williams: Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide, 5 March 2023)

Stevenson‘s 1885 fable of the dangers of suppressing the id “is for ever being recalled, throughout the English-speaking world, to signify man’s divided nature.”* Filmed, staged and broadcast hundreds of times, the story is superior to the telling, and in this adaptation (by the team that presented The Picture of Dorian Gray) we are treated to a Gothic glory, vivified for the stage by dark demonic videographers, swarming hornet-like about the players. So it is not quite a two-hander.

Theatre Review: Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is dynamism and intensity personified - The AU Review

Stevenson’s key character of the lawyer, Utterson (Matthew Backer), is revived, and the ‘other guys’ are played by Ewen Leslie, in a virtuoso performance (or performances). Vast slabs of text are hurled at us in an impressive display of rote, but the effect comes-off as much too talky.

As in Dorian Gray, Williams employs imaginative stagecraft, melding on-stage actors, live video, and pre-recorded video (by moving flats and screens) to heighten the sense of nervous, blurry fragmentation. The set design, really more Edinburgh than London, is minimalist but apt, with its fog and lamps and autumn leaves, but is dominated by the video design. Yet the use, arguably, the overuse, of such techniques, tends to detract from the dramatic activity, particularly when the real characters are obscured by the set and we are reduced, as it were, to watch them on TV.

This production is clever, but (dare we use that critic’s weasel phrase) “too clever.” Styled as a thriller, the piece is so well known that the denouement lacks mystery. More profoundly, Hyde comes-off as a figure of pity, rather than horror. He is a murderer and villain, yes, but we do not get the sense of the evil that potentially enters (or “enters in”) the human heart.  And when Utterson has a crack at Jekyll’s potion and gets a rush akin to an opium or acid trip, the switch is flicked to vaudeville.  Some edits are due: this show would resonate more at 90 rather than 120 minutes.

Behind the scenes with the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - ABC News

It has been suggested that Hyde was inspired by a French villain, Eugene Chantrelle, who invited his victims in Edinburgh to supper parties with toasted cheese and opium. This production, sumptuous as it is, has a tad too much cheese.

[* J. B. Priestley, Literature and Western Man (1960), p. 272.]

1 Comment

  1. Reply

    D & P

    March 15, 2023

    We were at the opening night, with the half hour pause because of a medical emergency. The play was much too wordy, although had interesting visual effects on the moving screens. They sometimes obscured the actors, which wasn’t a good thing. And that sound system was too loud as well as being too coloured. I found that it was hard to distinguish the two male voices from each other, never mind that they were playing four roles. And the all-in-black unobtrusive camera people had the effect spoiled by white hands operating the cameras – surely they could have got some dark gloves with cut off fingers if they had to do fiddly knobs and things. Sigh.
    Philippa thought is was an unusual theatre experience but it needed to be abridged. She thought that the drug experience in the middle was good and perhaps it could have ended there.

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