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Sarah McLeod is an artist who constantly challenges herself and in the process astounds us all with the quality of work she presents. First coming to our attention as front person of legendary Australian rockers The Superjesus, Sarah then morphed into an accomplished solo artist, designing a guitar system which allowed her to rock out confidently on her own. She taught herself to play piano, learned to act and showcased both of those honed skills into a starring role in the play Jane Eyre, playing five characters. Now the creative chameleon delivers the production’s soundtrack. Is there anything Sarah McLeod can’t do?

Upstairs, hidden in the shadows of Thornfield Hall, is the family’s darkest secret, the wife of the master of the house, Mr Rochester. She has lost her mind, but her presence clouds everything that goes on beneath her locked attic room. It clouds the burgeoning love the family’s young governess Jane Eyre, who dotes on her young charge, Adele. Strange things happen in the night, in the shadows. Every so often a powerful, tattooed apparition appears at the piano and her music underlines the tensions as the Hall’s inhabitants try to make the best of their lot. In the Shake & Stir Theatre Company production of Jane Eyre, that pianist is ARIA Award-winning singer-songwriter Sarah McLeod. She’s also the mad Mrs Rochester and, as one reviewer describes them, “a series of other grotesques” that inhabit those shadows, her songs and music as evocative and atmospheric as the timeless much-loved Gothic tale Charlotte Brontë wrote it 175 years ago.

Sarah first connected with contemporary theatre company Shake & Stir when she played the part, shared with Grinspoon frontman Phil Jamieson and Magic Dirt frontwoman Adalita, of St. Jimmy in their 2017 stage production of American punk-pop trio Green Day’s concept album American Idiot. Two years later she reconnected with the company for their adaptation of Brontë’s novel, for which she was invited to not only play five of the characters – the cast features just four players – but also the soundtrack that would be interspersed through the near two hours of the stage production. Debuted at Brisbane’s QPAC, after an obligatory COVID- enforced two-year layoff, Sarah is currently touring nationally with the production and those who attend the performances have had the opportunity to buy themselves a copy of her soundtrack after the shows.

The beauty of Sarah’s songwriting is that you don’t need to know the story to enjoy the music she has created for the production. The titles tell the story – Bessie’s Theme, Liar, Vengeance, Higher Voices (Helen’s Psalm), Dying To Love You (Jane and Rochester’s love theme), Automaton, Bertha’s Lament, Eternity Beyond and Reunion – but each song stands in its own right, evocative of themes that are universal, beyond any text or concept. Melodically steeped in traditional English folk song, the soundtrack begins with the haunting a cappella Bessie’s Theme. A sparse piano melody, underpinned by a darkly lush string section, draws you in before Liar’s declamatory, accusatory chorus explodes from the shadows, retreats and “night falls”, the briefest of respites before the chorus returns, as powerfully as anything in contemporary musical theatre. Plaintive piano and voice delivers Vengeance, short and bittersweet… and you know you want more. The only possible answer to Vengeance is to listen to your Higher Voices, “and let your angel soar,” again just that voice and its heartbreaking piano accompaniment. You can hear the ghosts of Jim Steinman and Bonnie Tyler though without their overblown histrionics as Sarah taunts us with her paean to eternal love, Dying To Love You, a true classic in the rock ballad genre – “heartbreak will set us free”. Automaton is the quirkiest of the soundtrack’s tunes, the staccato title delivered over a plangent piano melody. Sarah allows her extraordinary vocal’s full range to soar across the unearthly, yearning Bertha’s Lament before a swirling whirligig of sounds briefly sweeps away the ache… but the Lament hasn’t quite finished with your emotions as a searingly sparse piano figure takes us out and into the hopeful Eternity Beyond. Catharsis arrives with the aching instrumental Reunion, and you are released. – MICHAEL SMITH

Sarah rockin’ out at Mundi Mundi Bash recently. Pic by Jason Rosewarne

Purchase the Jane Eyre soundtrack album via Sarah’s bandcamp page

Dying To Love You – Filmed in The Theatre Royal Hobart

Sarah McLeod’s Linktree

10 Sept | Orange Civic Theatre
14 Sept | Wagga Wagga Civic Theatre
17 Sept | Griffith Regional Theatre
28 Sept | Albany Entertainment Centre
4 Oct | Queens Park Theatre, Geraldton
8 Oct | Red Earth Arts Precinct, Karratha
12 Oct | Darwin Entertainment Centre
15 Oct | Araluen Arts Centre 19 Oct | Empire Theatre, Toowoomba 21 – 22 Oct | Home of The Arts
26 Oct | Gladstone Entertainment Convention Centre
29 Oct | Mackay Entertainment Convention Centre
2 Nov | Townsville Civic Theatre
5 Nov | Cairns Performing Arts Centre
8 Nov | Pilbeam Theatre, Rockhampton
11 – 12 Nov | Redland Performing Arts Centre

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