Writer: Charlotte Brontë
Adaptation: Janys Chambers and Lorna French
Director: Elizabeth Newman
Reviewer: Matt Forrest
Last year saw this literary classic celebrate 170 years from when it was first published – since its release it has been wowing readers and audiences the world over with various stage and screen adaptations. It would seem that now Jane Eyre’s place in the world is as relevant as ever.
Jane Eyre is a tale of love, determination, heartbreak and, misery. Eyre an orphan girl placed in the care of a callous aunt, who cannot handle the feisty, strong-willed 10-year-old, she is shipped off to the Lowood school for orphaned children where she witnesses even more cruelty at the hands of the school’s proprietor, Mr. Brocklhurst. This, however, did not break the young Eyre, just stiffened her resolve and turned her into a fierce, independent woman who wishes nothing more than to find excitement, adventure and to make her own way in the world.
She soon lands a job at the grandiose Thornfield Hall, as governess and mentor to Adele Varnes a young French girl. It is at Thornfield where Jane meets the brooding Edward Rochester and despite an initial frosty encounter there is spark between them, eventually, they slowly fall for in love, yet there is something in the house that threatens not just their happiness together but also their lives as well.
This is an altogether stripped-back retelling of Jane Eyre filled with a blend of gothic horror, melodrama and surprising warmth and humour. This Chambers and French’s adaptation flies through its plot at breakneck speed especially Eyre’s time at Lowood: this (possibly as a result of time constraints) certainly makes it feel like something is missing as a result, however, due to the exceptional performance of Jasmine De Goade as the young Jane we have a performance full of fire and determination to allow us to invest fully into the narrative.
Jessica Baglow gives a fine and measured performance as the older Jane Eyre; full of charisma and spirit that you cannot help be bowled over by her charm and will her to succeed. In addition, Michael Peavoy gives a fine performance as Mr. Rochester: both brooding and at playful at the same time, Rochester’s desperation trickles through. Despite both lead’s solid performances there just isn’t enough passion and sizzle to fully invest in their devotion to each other. The rest of the cast offer fine support playing multiple roles with varying success: a scene-stealing turn from Clare Hackett as Miss Fairfax adds to the more comedic moments of the production.
What sets this adaptation apart from other productions is the fantastic use of Octagon Theatre, the play is performed in-the-round and with minimal set design, leaving a stripped back almost naked production: it exposes the lead protagonist’s anxieties, faults and, failings and leaves them for all to see. In addition, there is the mysterious figure lurking in the rafters whose presence looms ominously over the production and certainly adds an eerie menacing atmosphere to the production.
This is a unique telling of a masterpiece so embedded in our conscience that we needed a version that offered something different, well Newman’s production certainly delivers. This is an adaptation that wears its heart on its sleeve and now, seemingly more than ever needs its message to reach as many people as possible.
Runs until the 10th February 2018 | Image: Contributed