Above – Ewen Leslie and Matthew Backer. Cover – Ewen Leslie. Photos – Daniel Boud

The glorious 19th century prose of Robert Louis Stevenson meets the extraordinary intricacies of 21st century technology.  It takes two outstanding actors (Matthew Backer and Ewen Leslie), and a troupe of 13 talented technicians, together with the penetrating insights of writer and director Kip Williams, to build this combination into a remarkable and exceptional piece of theatre.

Set in the complexity of Victorian London society, with its own contradictions and dualities, this play displays the straightlaced and constrained Gabriel Utterson horrifyingly encountering the stark duality within the same person of his friend  Jekyll and Hyde. The black and white video images, and the darkly portrayed London nights and fog of the settings, emphasise the darkness and deception of both the troubled person and social context in which the story is set.

While the idea of human duplicity, as exemplified in the Jekyll and Hyde story, are well known, Williams’ adaptation takes the notion further, as is implied in Stevenson’s original text, highlighting the multiplicity of impulses that exist both in people and in society. The staging, with live video and multiple, and often split and moving screens, reflects the multiplicity and splitting of person and populace.

As grand and stately as the Stevenson words are, there are an awful lot of them as this story is both narrated and acted out, which, while it makes for a long performance, it also demonstrates the remarkable ability and virtuosity of these two superb actors. Not only did they memorise enormously long soliloquies, but also had to change quickly from one role to another, as the two of them dramatically and convincingly portrayed all characters in the plot, and a broad range of emotions. The entire troupe of actors and crew showed remarkable ability to pick up and start again after a forced 20 – 30 minute break in the presentation due to a medical emergency in the audience on opening night.

The entire play is backgrounded and enhanced with newly composed  music by Clemence Williams, (with some familiar bits stripped in appropriately, such as “ …the wicked oppress me, Ah where shall I fly?..” section from Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer). Strong acknowledgment must also be paid to Designer Marg Horwell, Video Designer David Bergman, and the whole crew of lighting, video and camera operators who are so intrinsic to the overall effects of this new and developing form of theatre.

Event details

Adelaide Festival presents a Sydney Theatre Company production
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
by Robert Louis Stevenson | adapted by Kip Williams

Director Kip Williams

Venue: Her Majesty's Theatre | Grote Street Adelaide SA
Dates: 3 – 12 March 2023
Bookings: adelaidefestival.com.au

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