Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Review


In the empty, towering black box of the Roslyn Packer Theatre, a large lonely square screen sits, awaiting for its cue.

Ewen Leslie in Sydney Theatre Company’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 2022. Photo: Daniel Boud ©

Suddenly a young innocent lawyer, Gabriel Utterson (Matthew Backer), appears on the screen sitting in Victorian clothing at a desk while perusing some letters. We are then welcomed into the story by Ewen Leslie who acts as a narrator in his contemporary undershirt before he is dressed in period costumes to match the characters that will bring this story alive. A queer murder mystery and a psychological thriller. A case that has troubled Utterson with two burning questions: “Who is this dangerous Mr Hyde? And what does he have to do with my dearest schoolmate Dr Jekyll?”

The first half feels like a detective film noir, focusing on the mysterious narrative-driven plot and uncovering answers. For those who are already familiar with the story it sometimes felt like drag –  an audience member next to me even snored! It was also difficult to empathise with these characters. Matthew Backer plays Utterson with a naïve and cautious spring in his step, and although Ewen Leslie effectively pivots and slips into multiple characters, he doesn’t immediately jump into them. Instead, it takes him a few seconds to wiggle into each new character’s accent and energy.

Ewen Leslie and Matthew Backer in Sydney Theatre Company’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 2022. Photo: Daniel Boud ©

Director Kip Williams tries to overcome this by pulling the audience’s attention with clever camera work. He uses floating screens that are scattered across the stage and then rearranged to create jigsaw-like fragments of perspectives as the characters discover new clues. This pairs beautifully with Clemence Williams’ and Michael Toisuta’s ominous sound design that is delicately speckled with classical music. Marg Horwell’s set design of empty Victorian film sets adds to the analytical cold detective atmosphere of the first half. David Bergman’s video design uses live footage overlayed with recorded footage of characters’ vivid memories to create some gorgeous cinematography.

But the second half is where the play really takes off. I won’t say too much, as it would be a considerable spoiler! All I can say is that it was absolutely worth sitting through the first half to witness this beauty. The actors’ energy, the video and sound design, and the music all soared! This enabled the audience to finally connect and empathise with the story, and feel Dr Jekyll’s and Utterson’s heartbreak rattle our cores. The second half of the piece injects warmth and humanity into this cold case.

Kip Williams does a fine job at reimagining this classic story into such a modern theatrical piece, something that has grown from his past works The Picture of Dorian Grey and Julius Caesar – an evolution worth experiencing.

4 Stars.

Josie, 19 [he/she/they]


Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – directed and adapted by Kip Williams – invites us into the narrative of this thrilling queer murder mystery classic, connecting its modern audiences through the contemporary use of live and pre-recorded film. It asks us important questions surrounding the morality of good and evil, and the many facets of an individual’s nature.

Ewen Leslie and Matthew Backer in Sydney Theatre Company’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 2022. Photo: Daniel Boud ©

Our attention is initially grasped by a sudden appearance on the previously empty screen of a character; Gabriel Utterson, representative of the perfect Victorian gentleman. The lawyer is superbly brought to life by Mathew Becker. Following this, a persona who presents as some sort of a narrator steps out to address the audience, entirely embodied by Ewen Leslie. They begin a gripping two-hour tour de force performance.

Whilst our eyes are drawn to this small cast of two as they captivatingly make their way through the show, we also catch a glimpse of the hands that are holding them up. A careful and intricately choreographed dance is performed by an incredible team of camera operators, hitting each mark of the galaxy-like markings on the floor of the stage to create the illusion. A deceptive and ingeniously mapped out range of small sets (designed by Marg Horwell), that shift on and off stage, provides us with a visually chilling, old Victorian understanding. This creates an exquisite combination when met with the video design (by David Bergman) that manipulates the story by introducing the idea of having multiple characters present at one time, yet only two actors.

The application of the style; Film Noir, brings another level of engagement to our periodic comprehension. Horwell’s costume implementation not only presents accuracy to the time but also assists the two actors to efficiently shapeshift in this incredibly complex and multi-personality-driven story. The visuals were amplified by the incredible sound design, (by Clemence Williams) that provoked at one time; nervousness, and at another; a loud guffaw.

Matthew Backer and Ewen Leslie in Sydney Theatre Company’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 2022. Photo: Daniel Boud ©

The first half of the performance is guided by context, questions and answers, and a general understanding of the story – beneficial to those who are not familiar with the novella. The second half engages us in an action-packed, fast-paced, and tense unfolding of the scary truths and uncomfortable realisations had by the innocent and influenced character ‘Gabriel Utterson’ about the very strange indeed case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

As an audience member, this piece both incredibly celebrated the connection that live theatre brings to an audience, as well as the confidentiality and intimacy that the conventions of the up close, live film proposes. The work explores themes that range from confrontational, to hilarious, to heartbreakingly tragic. Kip Williams and the entire creative team – the same team that brought us The Picture of Dorian Gray – have a bond of trust in the theatre that they collaborate on, and this show is an excelling example of that statement. I am incredibly excited to see what new work this incredible team of actors and creators will deliver us with next!

5 Stars.

Elodie, 17 [she/her]

Sydney Theatre Company’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde plays at the Roslyn Packer Theatre until the 10th September. Buy tickets here.