Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
Adapted for the stage by Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij. Directed by Michael Futcher. Designed by Josh Macintosh. Original music and songs composed by Sarah McLeod. Cast: Helen Howard. Nelle Lee, Sarah McLeod. Julian Garner. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. May 17-21 2022. Bookings: www.canberratheatre.org.au; 62435711
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
Shake ‘n Stir Theatre Company’s original adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s gothic tale, Jane Eyre is a theatrical powerhouse. Shake n Stir are fiercely faithful to the spirit of Bronte’s work. Coming as it does at the end of the gothic literary era, Jane Eyre’s search for independence and love is marked by the dark and brooding elements of the gothic era. In a production so gripping that an audience is utterly transfixed, Jane Eyre ( beautifully played by Nelle Lee) suffers the childhood cruelty of her bitter Aunt Reid (Helen Howard) before being sent to a charity school for eight years. At Thornfield Hall, Jane discovers a love for her mysterious employer Mr Rochester, played with commanding presence and conviction by Julian Garner, only to discover the existence of his mad and entrapped wife.
A daunting air of mystery and dread hangs over Josh Macintosh’s dimly lit set design for Shake n Stir’s riveting production of Jane Eyre. Sarah McLeod’s mood evoking composition and original songs rent the air with fierce foreboding. The composer/singer astounds with a voice that can chill the spine or thaw the coldest heart. Director Futcher’s clear sighted vision has combined the element in perfect accord with a superb quartet of actors and innovative creatives. The result is a production that stirs and shakes the mind and soul as we are drawn irrevovably into Charlotte Bronte’s tale of a young girl in search of freedom, love and independence. Bronte’s saga of suffering and longing and eventual happiness and independent freedom is told with stunning clarity by four actors who deftly take on the many characters of Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij’s faithful and forceful adaptation. Lee and Skubij skilfully interweave the elements of cruelty and suffering at the aunt’s residence, the confinement and deprived liberty of the charity school and the horrific madness of the imprisoned Bertha Mason, played to macabre effect by Sarah Macleod, who also doubles at times as a dancing music box doll interpretation of Rochester’s young ward Adele. Director Michael Futcher adroitly manoeuvres the action to provide a clear narrative while also orchestrating the tension and the suspense, assisted by McLeod’s haunting melodies and Macintosh’s lighting and astounding use of pyrotechnics. It is the production’s gripping fusion of the many aspects of production that makes this an unforgettable and thought-provoking performance.
|Nelle Lee as Jane Eyre|
Central to the success of Shake ‘n Stir;s Jane Eyre is the quality and versatilityof Futcher’s four actors. While Garner, Howard and McLeod switch characters with convincing agility, Lee remains in the eponymous role, swept along by fate and fortune. Central to the success of the production is the relationship between Jane Eyre and her employer Mr. Rochester. Lee and Garner chart the challenging journey from servant and master to romantic lovers, thwarted by a dark secret and reunited by the power of devotion with performances that charm amd move to tears. Howard and McLeod support the core story with an admirable display of believable versatility. In casting four excellent performers to play the many roles, Futcher has also created a powerfully effective ensemble to bring Bronte’s characters to life.
A happy ending gives cause for reflection in Shake ‘n Stir’s production. Their streamlined account of the story of a young girl innately independent and battling the forces of a society constrained by convention, intolerant morality and abusive faith reveals a writer living in the isolated world of the Yorkshire moors propounding a feminist vision well ahead of her time and pleading for a compassionate and just society. It is a plea echoed in a true and impactful depiction of Bronte’s moral saga. Shake ‘n Stir Theatre Company’s inspired and inspiring production sets the imagination on fire in a theatrical triumph that will linger long after the audience leave the theatre.
Co-Adaptors | Nelle Lee and Nick
Director | Michael Futcher
Designer | Josh McIntosh
Composer | Sarah McLeod
Featuring | Helen Howard, Nelle Lee, Anthony Standish and Sarah McLeod