Writer: Charlotte Bronte
Adapted by Chris Bush
Director: Zoe Waterman
How do you adapt a novel like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre? One way is to focus on one part – probably the Rochester episodes – and leave the rest out? Or you can adopt a contemporary approach and re-focus our view of the characters? Or, simply, cover the whole plot and let the audience out at 11pm? Or – best of all – you take the Chris Bush and Zoe Waterman approach and deal wittily with the entire book, but concentrate on the most telling scenes, linking the whole thing up with song and dance.
Three examples will suffice to show the originality of this approach. At the beginning, when Jane is to be taken to Lowood, she stops the action, insists that she is not going to Lowood before she has had her say and, once the actors have unravelled back to their former positions, delivers a fierce speech. Then there is the way Helen Burns’ death is registered in one sleep and seven years disappears in a moment. Helen is alive when Jane goes to sleep, but, when she wakes in torment, Miss Temple is there to console her for her bad dream. Then there is the one moment when Jane meets her predecessor, the unhinged Bertha Mason. As she enters the room where Bertha is, Eleanor Sutton is immediately and briefly transformed into the mad woman.
Equally surprising is the treatment of Jane and Mr Rochester. Jane herself is wild in the opening scenes, unable to stand still, and steadily and slowly transforms herself, but her impetuous flight from St John has been prepared for. Eleanor Sutton judges the part perfectly, not least in the exchanges with Mr Rochester where she refuses what she considers his immoral offer. The balance between the two is aided by Rochester being presented not as a simple romantic hero, but flawed and indecisive – and definitely from Yorkshire. The chemistry between Sam Jenkins-Shaw and Sutton develops beautifully.
Then there is the music by Simon Slater. Apparently it is taken from popular songs of the 19th century. The instruments played by the cast of six actor-musicians range from trumpet to double bass, supplying background music as well as song and dance.
The four remaining members of the ensemble double and triple parts, with some unlikely comic casting, Nia Gandhi bouncing in as Adele, for instance. Tomi Ogbaro has his best moments as Mr Brocklehurst, large, dignified and self-satisfied. Sarah Groarke contributes a cheerful and kindly Mrs Fairfax and Zoe West adds some pretty neat banjo playing to her worthy Miss Temple.
It is true that the Rivers episode makes less impact than the Thornfield scenes that precede it, but this is probably true of most readers’ reactions to the novel. The final scene, at Ferndean, is as moving as you could wish for.
Runs until 30th April 2022