Charlotte Brontë, adaptation by Janys Chambers and Lorna French
Octagon Theatre Bolton
Octagon Theatre Bolton
Charlotte Brontë's first published novel has been treated to a brand new adaptation for this production directed by artistic director Elizabeth Newman.
Designer Amanda Stoodley has placed the action in Newman's in-the-round staging inside a metal frame with a mesh floor and metal benches; with Ben Occhipinti's clanging sound effects, it has the feel more of a modern prison, but the costumes are more Victorian. I'm not exactly sure how this fits with the story.
The play opens with Jane as a child, played at the reviewed performance by the very talented Jasmine De Goede (shared with Emma Catterall), whose award-winning performance as Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird is still remembered as one of the highlights of the 2016 Octagon season.
Orphan Jane is poorly treated by the aunt-by-marriage (Claire Hackett) with whom she lives and is often punished severely for her behaviour, before being sent away to school, where all of the pupils are treated poorly by the penny-pinching director Brocklehurst (John Branwell) but she befriends kindly teacher Miss Temple (Anna Tierney). She stays on at school as a teacher—De Goede hands the baton over to Octagon regular Jessica Baglow, who gives a solid performance as the adult Jane—then goes off to find work as a governess.
She is engaged to teach Adele (a spirited performance from Coco Jones in a part shared with Kirsten Hemsley), the young French ward of Mr Rochester, who apparently is away a lot. Eventually she encounters her employer, who, as played by Michael Peavoy, is intense but rather dull, speaking largely in a hesitant monotone punctuated with occasional outbursts of arrogant rudeness.
But Jane clearly sees something in him and they become engaged, but the mysterious laughter from the attic—staged very effectively over the mesh of the lighting grid—turns out not to be from the dour nurse (Kiruna Stamell) after all but from someone who can ruin their happiness (until the end, of course).
The adaptation manages to include most of the story, but in doing so it often trips from one short scene to the next without giving the audience—or the actors—much opportunity to properly engage with the plot or the characters. There are a few significant moments when a scene is given chance to develop, and the actors run with it and grab the attention with a fine performance; the two that stick in my mind are young Jane's diatribe to her aunt and adult Jane's final confession of her feelings to Rochester.
Apart from the lead couple, the rest of the adult company all play multiple roles, but there is little to distinguish their characters from one another in most cases. The exceptions are probably Leah Walker and Marc Small; the latter's scenes towards the end with Baglow's Jane are some of the few that feature two actors firing on all cylinders, really feeding off one another's performances and finding a perfect pace.
Elsewhere, the pace is slow and uneven and the story patchy and unclear. This is the story of Jane Eyre pretty much in full, but not the exciting romantic (and Romantic) tale it could be.
Reviewer: David Chadderton