Based on Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel, the play follows the orphaned Jane Eyre through her miserable and isolated childhood to her adult romance with the mysterious Mr Rochester, whose betrayal forces her to reassert her identity and relationship with God.
Kay Benson, who plays Jane, encapsulate the wide range of the character, from child to adult, powerfully showing both her passionate resistance and despair. Although the characterisation of Rochester (Ben Owen) was less dominating than I expected, there were moments of real tenderness between him and Jane, and in his remembrance of his time in the West Indies.
Central to this production is the idea that the ‘madwoman in the attic’ is a reflection of Jane’s more passionate self, with Bertha almost always present on stage, separated from Jane by screen which is lit up to reveal moments of union between the characters. By having Bertha raised above Jane we are able to see the more intimate moments of her confinement, posing important questions as to how much of Rochester’s narrative can be trusted. Is this woman, seen calmly reading, laughing with her maid, really as insane as he claims?
Imani Thompson offers a touching portrayal of Bertha, receiving the men who visit her room with frightened panic, instead of the animalistic violence often associated with her. Her interactions with Jane on stage allow her to assert her existence, despite her husband’s denials of it and her own lack of voice. There were points where I felt that moments of mirroring were taken too far, such as the opening, when Bertha embodies Jane’s other half and takes her lines of resistance. However, although this potentially detracted from the drama and isolation of the Red Room, it didn’t diminish the tension created by her later appearances in the main part of the house.
A highlight of Jane Eyre for me was the music.
Georgia Rawlins’ arresting score was performed by Daniel Quigley on the keyboard, Esme Cavendish on the violin and Sophie Iddles on the cello, their placement on stage reflecting the music’s prominence in the production. The band’s energy helped to carry the action forward, elevating the motions on stage and transporting the audience between locations, such as Rochester’s memories of the West Indies. Rawlins’ score seemed to perfectly compliment the script, like when Benson’s audience addresses were accompanied by a single, held violin note, reinforcing Jane’s restlessness in Lowood School.
The supporting cast was also strong, particularly Harriet Wilton, whose comic timing was impeccable. Not only was her exasperation at Adele very funny, but her brief portrayal of a passing plum seller had me laughing for an unreasonably long time. Sophie Stemmon’s Brocklehurst was wonderfully imposing and underlined the trauma of Jane’s early years.
Overall, this was a strong attempt at a difficult book to adapt, and although some moments missed the mark slightly, was enjoyable to watch.