Shake & Stir Theatre Company has perfected the art of presenting gothic drama. This lively production of the Charlotte Bronte’s epic novel, here, cleverly co-adapted by Nelle Lee and Nick Skubj to compress the action into a little over two hours of the spine-tingling melodrama, for which Josh McIntosh has provided a towering setting complete with strange, shadowy characters inhabiting creepy rooms, dangerous staircases, terrifying storms and even a spectacular fire.
Most impressive of all however is the fact that all the myriad of characters in this story are depicted, rather brilliantly, by just four actors Nelle Lee, Julian Garner, Jodie le Vesconte and Sarah McLeod.
Not having read the novel, and without the benefit of a printed program as a guide, the actors accomplished this feat so remarkably that is difficult to be definite about which actor portrayed which role, but as the only male in the quartet perhaps it’s safe to say that Julian Garner played the object of Jane Eyre’s passion, Mr. Rochester, as well as the loathsome preacher Mr. Brocklehurst, and the spiteful young bully, John Reed.
Jodie le Vesconte played Jane’s cruel aunt, Sarah Reed, as well as a number of other characters, while Sarah McLeod played a series of grotesques including a heavily tattooed pianist who throughout played and sang marvellous atmospheric songs (composed by McLeod) as well as Mr. Rochester’s mad first wife, locked away in the attic of Thornfield Hall and conveniently incinerated when Thornfield spectacularly burns to the ground.
Captivating, Nelle Lee gives a fascinatingly nuanced performance as Jane Eyre, commencing the play as a 10 year-old, and finally as a mature adult, who having survived the cruelties inflicted on her by just about everyone she meets in her journey, finally gets her happy ending. That is, if you accept that having to look after the blind, badly disfigured Mr. Rochester for the rest of his life is a happy ending.
It says much for the power of the presentation, the clarity of the adaptation and the brilliance of Michael Futcher’s direction, that I soon gave up trying to identify which actor was playing which role and gave in to the twists and turns of the story, finding myself slightly shocked when only four actors took the stage at the end to acknowledge the enthusiastic applause of the appreciative audience.
It is fast becoming the norm for companies to provide digital programs for patrons to download before coming to the theatre. In this case I didn’t receive one, nor did I see anyone in the audience holding one.
What a pity then that the majority of the audience at this performance, and indeed those at following performances, will probably never know the names of the four brilliant actors they had been watching, or the equally brilliant creatives responsible for the remarkable theatrical experience they had just enjoyed.
The Playhouse – Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic Square, Canberra
Performance: Tuesday 17 May 2022
Season: 17 – 21 May 2022
Jane Eyre continues its tour across Australia. For more information, including performance dates and venues, visit: www.shakeandstir.com.au for details.
Image: Nelle Lee in Jane Eyre – photo by Dylan Evans
Review: Bill Stephens OAM