This review also appeared in Western Park Gazette
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is a classic of English literature. Set in 19th century Yorkshire, the titular character is a strong, spirited young woman who, although fictional, still inspires fierce devotion from her many fans.
The 20th century brought numerous film and TV adaptations and there is always a danger future productions may be one too many, not measure up to old favourites or the book itself.
It is clear Bryony J Thompson – writer, director, lighting and audio technician of Rosemary Branch Theatre’s production of Jane Eyre – has great affection and respect for the novel. Expertly edited but remaining true to the novel’s core, this adaptation gallops through orphan Jane’s unhappy childhood to her fateful meeting with Mr Edward Fairfax Rochester and his horse on Hay Lane.
And so begins one of literature’s most heart-wrenching romances, a masterpiece in Gothic tension and the social sensibilities of Victorian England. It is remarkable that the Yorkshire moors, the splendour of Thornfield Hall and a wide variety of characters are represented so convincingly by six actors and six chairs on a barely 4m wide stage. Simple period costumes of cream calico add to the overwhelming sense the book is coming alive, punctuated by stylised movements as they glide from scene to scene like a turn of a page.
Lily Beck, Helen Keely, Philip Honeywell and Joss Wyre deftly portray a wealth of characters without prop or ornament, instead using skilful and subtle physicality and voice. Hannah Madison plays Jane Eyre throughout, perfectly capturing her delicacy but also her inner steel. Many aspects of love are touchingly displayed: Jane’s yearnings for a settled home with a family she can love, her spirituality and her desire to be true to herself mean this is not just about the romance of Jane and Edward. Rob Pomfret is a worthy wearer of Rochester’s breeches: swarthy, brooding but tender. Occasional use of the female actors as Jane’s internal monologue and the combination of narrative from the novel as well as dialogue is effective, bringing out the humour in this intense story.
Both Friday and Saturday’s audiences at Upstairs at the Western were engaged throughout, interspersed with a few tearful sniffs towards the end.
This is a cleverly directed production, beautifully acted and simply staged.
Reader, I recommend it.
Jane Eyre is touring until 19th April 2014 Rosemary Branch Theatre
Images by Bill Knight