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From Page to Stage - shake & stir’s Jane Eyre

shake & stir theatre co brought Charlotte Brontë’s much-loved 1847 novel Jane Eyre to the 21st century with an innovative new production, creatively adapted and designed for stage and touring.



Presented in association with Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), Brisbane-based shake & stir theatre co premiered an original contemporary adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s iconic gothic tale, Jane Eyre, on the Cremorne Theatre stage in 2019 to critical acclaim.

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.

The production also provided a unique opportunity for Sarah (last seen in shake & stir’s national tour of Green Day’s musical American Idiot) to return to the stage and perform alongside established theatre performers Nelle Lee, Helen Howard and Anthony Standish.

The adaptation and producing process encouraged strong collaboration between shake & stir Artistic Directors Ross Balbuziente, Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij, and other artists and creatives. As co-adaptors leading the project, Lee and Skubj worked extensively with the cast and other creative industry experts to script and dramaturg – integrating technology, live effects and the new music as part of the storytelling.

Throughout the production, shake & stir offered work experience opportunities to university students, and provided professional development for teachers through exchanges with the cast and director and post-performance Q&As. 

The company’s choice to adapt a novel from within the education curriculum and the production’s success, along with the forward-planning in set design, encourages a strong audience base and ensures Jane Eyre  is well set up for future touring that is cost-effective without compromising on quality. 



When and where

September to November 2019, Brisbane.


Key stats

  • 1 new script and stage production
  • 1 new album/soundtrack
  • 5 local businesses contracted to provide services to project
  • 16 Queensland artists and 20 Queensland arts workers employed through project
  • 6034 total attendees
  • 100% of feedback survey participants rated the performance as good or excellent


Arts Queensland investment

$60,000 support through Queensland Arts Showcase Program (QASP) - Arts Ignite.

QASP provides funding to support the delivery of vibrant and accessible arts and cultural experiences for Queensland. 



  • shake & stir’s adaptation of Jane Eyre resulted in the creation of a new high-calibre theatre work from a Queensland performing arts company, flexibly designed for presentation in QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre as well as touring more broadly. 
  • The adaptation and presentation of this work inspired the exchange of knowledge and skills with those involved. In particular, it allowed musician Sarah McLeod to expand her professional experience across new art forms, composing and recording an original score for theatre and making her debut as an actor. 
  • Jane Eyre’s presentation in QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre played an impressive sold-out season and resulted in a positive income figure and ensured the financial sustainability of the production.



Learnings and reflections

The creative adaptation and design process presented several challenges in building a production with complex live effects that would be suitable for both the theatre where the production would premiere and for theatres of differing scales when touring later. shake & stir worked with nationally renowned supplier of custom engineered flame-effects Live Element to help resolve some of these issues.

“Although it was always at the forefront of planning and the creation of the show, to premiere in the newly refurbished Cremorne Theatre, putting a relatively large-scale work like Jane Eyre into this venue was at times difficult. As this piece is expected to tour larger theatres in future, the set needed to be appropriate to play larger houses but still fit and be viable in the Cremorne. Jane Eyre included a major live flame effect, essential to the storytelling of the piece. Once this effect was unpacked during the creative development, it became apparent that the future touring of live flame effects was going to prove difficult. Further, making a system that was absolutely safe for both venue, company and audience was paramount. By working with the internationally-revered company, Live Element, we overcame these challenges and received the expertise necessary to develop and implement a remarkable system that both serviced the play exceptionally well and wowed this audience.”

To create a new theatre score in a short timeframe, shake & stir found the most conducive method for composition was for Sarah McLeod to work alongside the development of the script in a fully-equipped rehearsal and recording space.

“In the creation of the composition, it became clear that it was essential to have Sarah McLeod fully set up in the rehearsal room - equipped to record music as the script developed. This ensured that the score could be created in a time effective manner and that Sarah was equipped dramaturgically to create the music under the time constraints inherent with opening a new work. Introducing the ‘sound’ of a contemporary musician like Sarah, gave the piece an added edge, appealing to a broader young/contemporary audience. Through the aural soundscape of the play, this classic tale felt fresh and current.”

Invest in the production upfront to better its sustainability for future presentations.

“Investing more resources in the quality and durability of the physical production (set materials and fire effects) means that much of the work to prep the production and make it tour-ready has now already been completed. This did mean extra time, money and resources went into the production - however, savings will be made closer to the roll-out of the tour. Future seasons of the work will now be able to get up efficiently and in the most cost effective way, minimising the need to build a second set or replace components of the current set.”

A longer timeframe to create and design the production would have been beneficial and could have potentially created additional savings in the set design.

“A work of this scale, which deals with both a new adaptation and a new musical score, would have benefited greatly from a creative development period outside of the official rehearsal period. This has been resisted on past shake & stir productions due to the added financial strains this would place the company under. Further, more research into the Fire Design component would have allowed for more effective budgeting of an effect of this scale that was intended to tour. There was overspend on the fire system, which although will make future touring of the work more cost effective, meant that additional expenses could not be avoided whilst delivery the production safely and effectively.”




“The actors were very good and Sarah McLeod's Compositions and singing were brilliant.” – Survey respondent 

“Best play I have seen since Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in London” – Survey respondent

“The company put on a great performance as always. This is the 3rd production of theirs I have seen and they are always brilliant.” – Survey respondent

“Cannot commend shake & stir any higher. This small cast really exceeded all my expectations.” – Survey respondent

“Excellent adaptation, stage design and performance.” – Survey respondent

“This is one of the best productions of Jane Eyre I’ve seen. Every moment was used to convey the story in a deep and personal way. Humour kept it light-hearted at the appropriate moment without distracting from the overall show. This small cast did an amazing job, and I was enthralled at every moment. Even with quick character changes, they never faltered.” – Survey respondent

“What shake & stir created was a visually arresting, unique experience and their commitment to pushing conventional constraints is refreshing.” – Majella McMahon, Scenstr

“A dark and difficult text has been interpreted into a contemporary form which is comprehensible to modern audiences.” – Michele-Rose Boylan, Arts Review

“The ambience created by the set, lighting and the costumes (which suggest the period but not slavishly) are all excellent.” – Phil Brown, The Courier Mail


Tips for others

“Assemble a team of like-minded creatives that enjoy and are inspired by the challenges of mounting high-quality, large-scale theatre which thinks outside the box. 

Collaboration is key – don’t ever be concerned about seeking outside advice and listening to the opinions of those more experienced than you. 

Consider using the power of transformative actors effectively and think of ways large stories can be told by a smaller cast; doubling, tripling roles as necessary. 

Think outside the box when adapting classic work for stage. What is YOUR take on this? How is YOUR version, better/different/more important than any other adaptation out there? What can you add to the original story and legacy of the source material by revisiting it for the stage? 

Know who your audience is, how to get them and then work on creating the piece with them in mind at all times. Having a wonderful piece of theatre is great – but having an audience turn up and see it is even better.

Broaden your audience appeal and attract various demographics - but always consider the experience from each of their perspectives. A classic adaptation of a title will attract an audience, but what happens when you offer an added surprise or element (such as an original music score from a contemporary musician)?  


What next?

shake & stir are in negotiations with several venues across Australia to tour Jane Eyre in future.

The company continues to create new works as well as present their previously established productions, explore the possibilities of live theatre and imagine new ways to integrate technology and live effects through their performances and storytelling. shake & stir also continue to perform regularly at QPAC across their annual program.


Find out more

shake and stir website 

shake and stir Facebook

shake and stir Instagram


Banner image: Bertha and Jane, Jane Eyre. Credit image:Dylan Evans