Review By Michelle Sutton
Shake & Stir has boldly adapted and created a new theatrical production of Charlotte Bronte’s classic gothic romance novel Jane Eyre. The book which was originally published under a pseudonym in 1847 tells the life story of Jane, a fiercely stubborn, passionate, determined, stoic orphan who grows up in England.
Nelle Lee and Nick Skubj have adapted the material for a brand-new theatrical production. The show rests on four actors who all play a multitude of roles except for the one portraying the protagonist, Jane. The small cast stands in stark contrast to the elaborate and set which comprises a metal construction that takes up the entire stage at the Riverside Theatres, with multiple levels to resemble a tower, buildings of different levels with railings and stairs between them. The metal fortress is visually striking and imposing, an apt image of the cold cruelty and poverty that Jane spends much of her life living in.
The titular role on opening night was played by swing Maddison Burridge who did an exceptional job. Burridge fully embodied the complex character of Jane, with a stoicism, determination, compassion and inextinguishable spirit that are the hallmark traits of Bronte’s beloved heroine.
Burridge plays jane from 10 yrs old until an adult, and does so successfully, drawing out the gritty, stubborn, caring, free-thinking nature of Jane that develops as she grows older and is confronted with more and more adversity. Her performance is impressively restrained and sophisticated, allowing the audience to grow more understanding of the character as the play goes on and to believe this could be a woman living in the strict social confines of the 1800s. The other actors also present exceptional performances. Another swing, Hilary Harrison performs several roles including that of Jane’s childhood best friend, and the tortured character of Bertha Mason and the role of French child Adele. Harrison also performs the music in the play, singing and accompanying herself on a piano that is attached to the set. Harrison’s voice is exquisite and she must be commended for switching between so many very different roles so quickly and flawlessly. Julian Garner plays the majority of male roles in the play and Jane’s love interest, Rochester. He captures the essence of the mysterious man very well, changing moods unpredictably, shifting between endearing charm, fury and coldness within seconds. Garner and Burridge have an excellent chemistry as Jane and Rochester, portraying a relationship that the audience believes and roots for. Jodie Le Vesconte plays the remaining characters in the play including Jane’s callous and abusive aunt, her kindly school teacher and the housekeeper at Thornfield, Mrs Fairfax. Le Vesconte embodies the different roles incredibly well, flipping between accents and demeanours seamlessly.
Directed by Michael Futcher, the show flows smoothly despite traversing many decades and physical locations, and with many character changes by the highly capable cast. The lighting design by Jason Glenwright and very impressive pyrotechnics and effects elevate the production by highlighting the sense of real danger and threat to the characters. This makes the story feel just as dramatic and epic now as it did to people experiencing it for the first time in the mid-19th Century. The different elements of the production come together perfectly, with precision and sophistication.
Shake & Stir’s production features new music composed by Sarah McLeod. The addition of piano music played live is a nice touch to the story and amplifies the sense of Jane Eyre’s emotional turbulence and suffering, however I am not sure if the lyrics add any depth or nuance to the production as they are taken from the book and are very simple, failing to heighten the tension, anticipation or sadness in the story in any remarkable way.
Share & Stir’s production of Jane Eyre is a vivid, bold and beautiful experience, bringing the classic gothic tale of Jane Eyre to life through impeccable direction, acting and spectacular production elements. Shake & Stir Theatre Company is currently touring Jane Eyre around Australia in big cities and regional towns, make sure to grab a ticket if you can.