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Jane Eyre - Riverside Theatre, Parramatta (NSW)

Written by Charlotte Bronte, Adapted and created by Shake & Stir Theatre Co

Reviewed by Juliana Payne

31 August 2022, Riverside Theatre, Parramatta.

To paraphrase Jane Eyre herself: Reader, I LOVED it! This multi-level, multi-faceted and multi-tasking performance by three highly talented actors was breathtaking. There’s been something of a Victorian/gothic flavour this year in Sydney theatres with two productions of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and a theatrical adaptation of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and now this rendition of Jane Eyre, which is truly outstanding.

The story of Jane Eyre has over nearly two hundred years become an iconic tale of the power of the indomitable spirit to triumph over adversity. It’s been used both as a feminist text due to Jane’s strong, independent, and intelligent characterisation as a person who will not compromise her values and integrity, as well as being criticised for letting the sisterhood down with its ‘happy ending’. It’s very early Victorian style and language has been the bane of many literature students’ lives, so teachers take note – this production will solve all your problems in getting students to focus on the rich plot and wonderfully drawn characters and themes of Jane Eyre. It even deals very appropriately with portrayals of violence and death, which will enable audiences to discuss these issues within the right context and delve into human psychology and its many conflicting elements.

(c) David Fell

Maddison Burridge as Jane captured the essence of her character perfectly and was even able to bring out the dry humour that lies within this very serious text. Julian Garner and Hilary Harrison were absolutely convincing playing all the other characters, skilfully transforming themselves in the blink of an eye. These actors could portray the essence of a character with the turn of a head, a smile, the flick of a fan and impressive vocal range.

The staging and shadowy lighting worked in perfect concert with their well-blocked performances, and the action on stage was seamless. It was gratifying to hear their pitch perfect tone in the dialogue, and no-one dropped a word or stumbled. Even though they’ve been touring this production, there was not a jot of feeling that it was stale or a sense of ‘here we go again’. It was fresh, surprising, spontaneous, and flowed naturally between scenes. Sarah McLeod’s original music and songs, performed by her live on stage, provided a beautiful eerie, other-worldly soundtrack to this classic Gothic work.

Director Michael Futcher and creative producers Ross Balbuziente and Nick Skubij used all the arsenal in their theatrical toolbox to bring the novel to full-blooded life. They kept it going at a rip-snorting pace, gripping the audience from the opening moments and not letting go.

Designer Josh McIntosh and lighting designer Jason Glenwright used raw steel, wood, and shadows to create a dark and forbidding landscape, showcasing stunning silhouettes and using a multi-level structure cleverly to enhance the drama. With some stunning stage effects – like the flames engulfing Thornfield, the dark silhouette of Bertha glowering down from on high, or the noir-like shadows that created drama and character – this production was simply an unalloyed pleasure to watch.

Whilst it has left Riverside Paramatta, the company is

touring nationally, so I recommend anyone with an interest in the pure joy of live theatre to get on their website and track them down!

For more information and to book tickets for the touring production of Jane Eyre follow the link here.

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



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