Thursday, May 19, 2022

Jane Eyre


Jane Eyre – adapted from the novel by Charlotte Bronte by shake & stir theatre co (Queensland Performing Arts Centre) co-production with Canberra Theatre Centre, The Playhouse, May 17-21, 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
May 17

Co-Adaptors: Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij
Director: Michael Futcher
Designer : Josh McIntosh
Composer: Sarah McLeod
Additional Music and Sound Designer: Guy Webster

Performed by Julian Garner, Nelle Lee, Jodie le Vesconte and Sarah McLeod
(Swings Maddison Burridge, Hilary Harrison, Nick James)

Image credits: Dylan Evans; David Fell

Recommended for ages 12+

Jane Eyre contains adult themes, simulated violence and supernatural elements and will feature strobe, loud music and fire/smoke/haze effects.

shake & stir have certainly lived up to their name.  I have never been quite so shaken in a theatre as I was by the fire burning down Mr Rochester’s three-storey mansion, by his mad wife.  I thought of all those theatres back to Shakespeare’s Globe burnt down by theatre companies doing things like firing a cannon as a special effect.  Luckily the Canberra Playhouse – and all the theatres on their tour so far – has survived.  shake & stir explain: “By working with the internationally-revered company, Live Element, we overcame these [live flame effects] challenges and received the expertise necessary to develop and implement a remarkable system that both serviced the play exceptionally well and wowed this audience.”

It certainly did.  

I was equally stirred by the emotional quality of the story, as created by Nelle Lee in the role of Jane, from a bright ten-year-old who questions with unerring common sense the attitudes of surrounding adults, especially concerning how girls should behave; through to a grown-up woman who has learned to develop her self-awareness, recognising the truth in her feelings for Rochester while maintaining her own independence as a person in her own right – so that she can decide to marry him in a true partnership.

Though I thought I knew Charlotte Bronte’s novel, this adaptation wowed me: this is not a ‘Gothic’ tale, but proof of Bronte’s understanding of what it meant to be a New Woman in her own time, the 1840s; and how essential it is to our understanding today of the proper place of women.  280 years later we are still struggling daily with the improper view that men are ‘naturally’ the decision-makers.  In this production Julian Garner’s embarrassingly awful budding Christian missionary, St. John Rivers, who would take Jane to India, encapsulates the very men we still see in politics, business and at all levels in society.  How thankful I felt when Jane simply said ‘No’ to that self-aggrandising man.

To know that this production has been made with support for its educational purpose from the Queensland state government is very welcome indeed.  Arts Queensland has recorded its positive response:

“While renowned for their ability to adapt classic literary material into high-quality accessible stage works, Jane Eyre was one of shake & stir’s most ambitious creative productions requiring the development of a play script, an original score of accompanying music and an imaginative set with touring capability.

Jane Eyre featured a cast of four Queensland artists – most playing more than one character – with music composed and performed by multi ARIA Award winner and The Superjesus frontwoman Sarah McLeod.”  With much more to read at
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This is a stunning production, the sixth by shake & stir I have reviewed and the best, especially for the originality of the staging, the use of live singing and piano playing by Sarah McLeod, and the lighting and sound effects – as well as the frightening flames!  Miss it, if you dare.

The young Jane Eyre comforting school friend Helen, dying of tuberculosis
Jane Eyre - shake & stir, 2002