When I studied Jane Eyre at school, I was particularly taken by the references to fire in the novel, and their symbolic representation as love, passion and unrestraint. My teacher was quick to tell me that I was wrong; fire, I was told, was an insignificant aspect of the novel. It’s pleasing to go to a play where Eyre’s fiery intensity is given its due importance.
However, the success of Jane Eyre extends far beyond that. Perhaps what most sets the play apart is the innovative presentation of Bertha Mason (Joanne Murray), who is portrayed in the beginning of the play as an invisible alter ego to Jane Eyre (Chloe Gale), and spends the rest of the play gesticulating, scowling and screaming at the back of the stage, locked in her Red Room. The play thus explores the relationship between Bertha and Jane Eyre in an original, entertaining fashion, by shedding a more sympathetic light on the character of Bertha than Bronte herself grants her, while serving as a depiction of Jane’s inner thoughts as the play unravels. This reaches a powerful climax towards the end of the play as Alex Stutt’s wonderfully interpreted St John sermons Jane as Bertha simultaneously sets fire to Thornfield. In addition, Chloe Gale’s transition from the young, uncertain Jane Eyre to the confident woman that she becomes is both convincing and admirable.
Bronte’s novel is a hard one to adapt to the stage, and thus Polly Teale’s success in doing so is impressive. However, there are parts in the play, where, through an attempt to include all the details in the novel, the scenes sometimes seem fractured, and often there is insufficient time for real relationships between the characters to develop. Moreover, in a play which sticks relatively faithfully to the original text, the use of modern music sometimes came across as out of place, and quite frankly, repetitive.
A strong performance by Phillip Gemmell presents Rochester in all his volatile, cruel and manipulative nature, while his softer side is also skilfully portrayed. Lucy Shenton shone in her brilliant transformation from Mrs Reid to Mrs Fairfax, two very different characters which she approached with confidence, while Alice Inglis, gushing with youth, gave life to both Adele and Helen Burns. Finally, Adam Diaper authoritatively depicted both Mr Brockelhurst and Lord Ingram with humour and energy.
Overall, an impressive, all-round performance by the cast in a play which is hard to to put on but which is tackled skilfully and creatively to produce a refreshing and engaging presentation of Bronte’s novel. Definitely worth seeing.