Jane Eyre – Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Writer: Charlotte Brontë

Adaptor: Mark Webster

Director: Ellie Goodall

The promotional flyer for the companion performance to Jane Eyre declaring, “Tragic occurrences and human solitude” is serendipitously apposite for Director Ellie Goodhall’s in-house production, adaptation by Mark Webster, of Jane Eyre: a rollicking rite of passage, private education-horror, love-tussle with something nasty in the attic, cum cathartic, climactic conflagration. Ask many in the audience tonight which classic quote from a romantic novel they might most recognise? Toss a coin – “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”. (Rebecca)/”Reader, I married him”. (Jane Eyre). Guilty hidden secrets, rough diamond hero (albeit, a bit singed) classic tropes run abandon amongst these suppressed, wild-beating Victorian hearts on fire. All in less than fifty minutes! Hi-octane Gothic romance not a precious-stone’s throw from Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. What’s not to like?

“We’re back!” celebrates the tentative, post-Covid Blue Orange Theatre, setting out an admirable ticket pricing policy encouraging punters to, “Pay what you can (even more)” towards the already, very modest entrance fee. The cosy auditorium is at half-Covid contingent capacity recalling an Edinburgh Fringe audience of one man and his dog authenticity that many will bashfully recall. Tonight, lending further wry, contextual élan, Rochester is the one man and a faithful, fluffy stuffed Pilot, is the dog. But, it’s so good to be back.

A stage: four dexterously adaptable actors reimagine a classic story of an ordinary girl thrust into unlikely circumstances; meets unattainable boy in a Yorkshire Moors setting where a locked-up, deranged wife with a Parisian homesick grudge, provides incrementally, antagonistic candle-wax accelerant narrative thrust. Kaz Luckins and James Nicholas busily doff numerous caps and bonnets, scarfs, mannequins and spooky veils in supporting roles with a wry ear for an occasional subtle irony teased from the novel’s subtext.

Plain, grey Jane (Kimberley Bradshaw) seemingly coy, frail winter sparrow, has an authentic enough Yorkshire accent and most certainly a spine wrought of doughty Pennine grit. The ensemble cast of four exchange shared and paired narratives and characters with a convincing perception and conviction, particularly so when Jane is addressed face-to-face by other characters reading from the novel. A particularly shrewd stage device worth noting.

Auspicious, disembodied laughs plot-shift and punctuate the necessarily truncated prose of the original text. Subsequent lashing of melodrama, mystery and wedding-banns call-out crisis ripple deliciously between Jane and Rochester (Richard Buck). All done with appropriate Victorian decorum of course.

‘I am passionate but not vindictive!’ remonstrates the eponymous heroine. A rags-to-riches, somewhat deus ex machina convenient plot catalyst as she discovers her cynically concealed new-found wealth – then promptly giving two-thirds of it away to her new-found cousins.

Once gentile-poor ingenue, shy anti-heroine; now love-redeeming saviour of disfigured loaded landowner –Last night I dreamt I went back to Thornfield House anyone?’

This engaging, modest production has little to be modest about. An emerging spiky protagonist is allowed to breathe-in Brontë’s energy and passion without labouring under the imposition of any identity politic appropriation gender-agendas. Me Rochester, you – sweet, sweet Jane. That’s the way she wrote it. The Blue Orange Theatre crew are pushing the boat out with serious intent, launching an ambitious programme of shows in equally serious need of punters getting on board. Use them or lose them.

Runs until 17 July 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Hi-octane Gothic Romance

The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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