Review: Erin Shields’ adaptation of Jane Eyre, a fierce feminist portrayal of the Citadel stage


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Jane Eyre is a bad character with a deceptive temper.

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Of course, that’s according to her miserable aunt, Mrs Reed, who can’t help but slander her 10-year-old daughter’s character even as she tries to get her a job at Mr Brocklehurst’s charity school. . Of course, as audiences, we know best in playwright Erin Shields’ highly witty adaptation of Jane Eyre, which is now enjoying its world premiere at the Maclab Theatre. Jane Eyre is fiercely honest, loyal and brave, regardless of the tragedies that have been inflicted on the poor orphan in her brief existence.

Playwright Erin Shields is adapting Jane Eyre for the upcoming Citadel production.
Playwright Erin Shields is adapting Jane Eyre for the upcoming Citadel production. Photo of David BloomDavid Bloom /David Bloom/Postmedia

The fact that she is determined to live life on her own terms also makes her an early feminist icon, and Shields eliminates much of Charlotte Brontë’s writing to emphasize this fact. Rather than blocks of dialogue, she’ll often convey her heroine’s days through silent, repetitive movements that take on an almost balletic quality, courtesy of Good Women Dance’s movement director Ainsley Hillyard. Paragraphs melt away, exposing and highlighting the shiny bones of funny dialogue, chapters fall into each other. The bare scene sees a continuous movement of beds, benches, rolling ladders to reveal the passage of time and place; Bonnie Beecher’s skilful deployment of light and shadow is used to show the portraits that hang in Thornfield Hall.

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Considering it clocks in at nearly two and a half hours, the action flows rather smoothly. The actors change quickly between the different roles, sometimes for comedic effect. Young Jane (Ivy DeGagné) transforms into adult Jane (Hailey Gillis) via an elegant onstage exchange, returning as French orphan Adele, while older Jane berates herself as Miss Abbott. Garrett Ross transforms from cruel Mr. Brocklehurst to delicate lady-in-waiting, and Helen Belay transforms from Eyre’s best friend, the serious and gravely ill Helen, to the gorgeous and scintillating Rosamund. It’s a testament to the skill of the performers that after a while you barely notice the doubling and tripling of roles.

Of course, the main action is between Eyre and his new employer, Mr. Rochester (John Ullyatt). He’s prickly and demanding, but the stubborn young governess sees something in him that appeals to her romantic nature. The dialogue between the two is almost reminiscent of a Howard Hawks comedy at times, with the duo surrounding, pushing and provoking each other, indirectly signaling their mutual interest. It’s clear there’s an intense bond, though the strict social codes of Victorian England seem impassable for the two. Through it all, there is the mystery of Thornfield Hall itself: what exactly is on the third floor, and where is that maniacal laughter coming from?

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Brontë’s literary style may not be to everyone’s taste, but Shields’ adaptation manages to retain the spirit of the novel while cutting the original text into something more modern. At times, it’s almost dreamlike as time speeds up and then slows down, or the characters burst into mournful song over an eerie drone set by sound designer Jonathan Lewis. The ghosts of Eyre’s past are always right behind her, either cheering her on or lecturing her spitefully.

If all of this sounds like a busy night, it’s not. The novel might pivot on heavy gothic romance and personal tragedy, but Shields’ play is bubbly and occasionally quite funny, whether through character quirks, Eyre’s hilarious exchanges with Rochester, or even just spectacle. of a man dutifully wearing a rubber horse’s head. neighing. If you’ve read the book or seen any of the many film adaptations, you’ll know how it goes, but getting to this point, you’ll discover much more than you expected.

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Jane Eyre adapted by Erin Shields

Or Maclab Theater at the Citadel, 9828 101A Ave.

When Until April 10

Tickets From $30 via the Citadel box office at 780-425-1820 or

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