Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde explores mental illness, on stage at the Walmer Theatre in Toronto
Coming off the success of their previous production, Bonnie and Clyde, Echo Productions is back with Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, bringing their intense physical style to one of the classics of western literature.
From a theatre standpoint, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde must be a very tempting proposition; the psychological exploration of the battle between Id and Ego is ripe fodder for a playwright and the whole duality of the story lends itself to creative staging and role choices for actors.
Echo Productions has taken to the story with gusto, letting the bestial nature of Hyde inform much of their choices leading to a play that has a raw energy that the intimacy of the Walmer Theatre intensifies, to the point where every impact on the stage reverberated right through the floor. It’s rare to see a production so willing to be so uncontrolled and chaotic and by the end of the show I found myself struggling with a minor fight or flight reflex.
The story is relatively faithful to the original text, following the struggle of Dr. Henry Jekyll as he struggles with the temptation that becoming Mr. Hyde holds, but one slight shift in the plot with the addition of the character of Elizabeth Jelkes creates an interesting shift in the character of Hyde; while he’s unquestionably a violent monster, Elizabeth brings out a softer side to the man and shifts the themes from the simple one of “Good vs. Evil” to a conversation about morality vs. ethics, a choice by writer Jeffrey Hatcher that elevates the narrative as a whole.
One issue that arises from this choice however blurs the lines of what the show purports to be its overall theme, namely one of addiction and how it affects us all, ignoring class, education or social status. While there’s no doubt the play explores this concept (especially in the first act), the conclusion of the play felt more like a criticism of the black and white puritanical morality that so permeated Victorian society.
Philosophical debate aside however, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is a fantastic production. The performance of Tyler Hagemann as Jekyll is a standout of the show, holding the production together with his tortured performance and the choice to have Mr. Hyde played by multiple actors (nicely adding to the subversion of the duality of Jekyll & Hyde) allowed for some fantastic set pieces and choreography.
I also want to give special mention to Kyle Duffin and Sarah Bobak who provided live music for the show, giving an additional sensory experience that due to its live nature added to the rawness of the production. It was a nice touch that made the whole show better for it.
The short run of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde might make attending this production difficult, but I highly recommend you find a way; this is one of those shows that demonstrates why independent theatre with a vision is so important for Toronto’s arts scene.
- Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is playing at the Walmer Theatre (188 Lowther Avenue)
- Performances run until December 5, 2015
- Showtimes are 8 PM every night with a 2:30 PM Matinee on the 5th
- Tickets are $25, $20 for children/students/seniors and Arts workers
- Tickets can be purchased online or in person
Photo by Samantha Falco