Jekyll & Hyde tells the story of a man driven by his passion to understand the coexistence of good and evil in man, and if it is possible to separate the two.
The musical was based on the story The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, adapted for the stage with book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, and music by Frank Wildhorn. For Director Jason Vikse, ‘Stevenson and Wildhorn [were] two of the main reasons [he] wanted to be involved in this show.  Stevenson’s book is basically the definition of a classic; full of horror, drama, and suspense, and the musical adds love interests, mayhem and murder.’ Attracted by the ‘classic storyline’, Vikse loved ‘the idea of showing an audience a new perspective on an old story, finding fresh depth and dimensions to characters and plots that may seem tired or worn out. The story is a classic for a reason.  Great characters, great story, great issues.’

Set in 19th century London, the production begins with Jekyll explaining “In each of us there are two natures. If this primitive duality of man: good and evil, could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that is unbearable. It is the curse of mankind that these polar twins should be constantly struggling”. Viske believes that ‘as a character study, nothing is more fascinating than exploring the dual sides of the human soul, especially when you get to look at both sides played by one actor, often at the same time!’ The  classic Victorian England setting served as an appropriate touchstone for ARC’s production to express the symbolism inherent in the musical through the Costume Design. ‘Tight corsets and tops and tails are the name of the game for this production.  The clothing is very restrictive, and the set plays on that theme as well, oftentimes creating a metaphorical prison of Victorian manners’ says Viske. However in comparison, the Set Design is a lot more minimalistic, as Vikse wanted ‘the focus to be on the performance and the characters.’

‘My greatest challenge in approaching the text was finding a way to tell our interpretation of the story while still paying homage to Stevenson’s work.  Seeing as the musical is already a re-telling of the story, it can be difficult to be original and still honour the history of the tale, as well as the script. People who know the book will be surprised by the musical and people who know the musical will be surprised by our interpretation of it’ says Vikse. ARC Theatre has not only striven to do justice to this perennially popular musical, but also attempted to reinvigorate it with a sense of contemporary relevance. ‘It will certainly have an emotional effect on audiences. The show is an observation of the human soul, both its strengths and its frailties, and can easily be translated from 19th century London to 21st century Melbourne.  I want the audience to leave the theatre wondering what their Hyde would look like today; wondering what would happen if they drank the formula’ says Vikse.

ARC Theatre was founded in 1996 with the aim to produce high quality amateur theatre productions for local residents, involving them in all aspects of performance and production. It is clear that the level has been set quite high by the standard of work described by the cast and creative’s with their production of Jekyll & Hyde. ‘My cast and production team have been terrific at working with me to ensure that our version is unique to the vision I have as director and to the visions that the cast brought with them to the characters, while not veering from the celebrated story that is Jekyll & Hyde’ says Vikse. Actor Leighton Irwin who plays the title role contends that ‘ARC's production of Jekyll & Hyde will not only live up to people's expectations of the show, but also give something more, adding new layers not seen before.’

When asked about the challenge of performing the dual nature of the title role, Irwin describes how ‘it was relatively easy to tap into [Hyde’s] sinister side; he is completely driven by his purpose. The most challenging part was to take it to the next level of reality, adding more depth and naturalness to the character, as it can be easy to go too over the top with it. With Jekyll, in many ways it was a lot more of a challenge, because as the rehearsal process went by, it became more obvious that Jekyll is not simply the good to Hyde’s obvious evil. Though initially his actions are out of the best intentions, over time the course of events leads him to hurt those close to him.’ It is the ‘many facets of his personality that unfold during the show’ which most appeals to Irwin about his complex character. In relation to Jekyll, it is ‘the things that drive him, the relationships he has, and the effect his goals and his dreams have on those relationships. His ambition, the many layers to his psyche, heart and his intentions, however misguided they may be at times. Also his imperfections as a human being and as a whole appeal to me.’ When it comes to playing Hyde, Irwin is most interested in his ‘childlike curiosity and wonderment. Everything is new to him, and there are no restrictions of society ingrained in him. His fearlessness, his passion and how calculative and deliberately methodical his actions are; like a child with no limitations who relishes every reaction with adult-like understanding.’

Playing opposite Irwin as Hyde’s love interest, Lucy Harris, is Tess Branchflower. ‘Lucy manages to find hope in grim circumstances and she truly believes there is a better life for herself.’ However, ‘I found balancing Lucy's confidence and vulnerability within scenes quite challenging. I confess that I came into Jekyll & Hyde not knowing the musical and what to expect but I am thrilled to be performing in this underestimated masterpiece’ says Branchflower. Playing Jekyll’s fiancé, Emma Carew, is Rosabelle Elliot. ‘Emma is very loving and sees the good in people unlike many of the people in her world. She is spirited though definitely not a walkover’ describes Elliot. ‘Playing Emma has been very challenging because she is so unwavering in her devotion to Jekyll. She is blinded by her love for him and that causes a few problems! Delving into her character to find out where her devotion comes from and justifying it has probably been the most challenging part’ says Elliot. ‘Emma appeals to me because she isn't the typical Victorian Lady that everyone thinks she is. She may look the part and publicly act with propriety, but she has an inner strength and wants to make a difference in the world’ says Elliot.

Jekyll & Hyde is truly a stand alone, one of a kind musical’ says Irwin, ‘It has everything – drama, action, horror, a thrilling score, even occasional elements of comedy. It is an intricate piece that challenges us to examine the good and evil inside all of us. It is a show that is rarely done and I thoroughly believe audiences will walk away shocked, awed and touched by this beautifully tragic story.’

ARC Theatre presents Jekyll & Hyde, in association with the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness.

6-14th July 2012, at the Banyule Theatre.

Bookings can be made via www.arc-theatre.com or 0435 062 087.

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