Tuesday, 1 December 2020

REVIEW: Blackeyed Theatre's Jane Eyre (Online)

Earlier this year NT Live streamed their 2017 co-production with Bristol Old Vic of Jane Eyre as part of their National Theatre at Home season with its large scaffolding set and three-hour running time. It was a fine production in typical NT style. Now Black-eyed theatre brings their more stripped back version adapted by Nick Lane and captured at the delightful Wilde Theatre in South Hill Park in Bracknell. He selectively retells the story of Charlotte Bronte’s 19th-century heroine in just over two hours and focuses on the key relationship between Jane and Rochester. The result is more accessible, more engaging and a very enjoyable watch with a straightforward capture of the show.

Simply staged with a dark setting by Victoria Spearing (the Wilde’s resident designer) with beams that only hint of the various building her story takes us to and a few props consisting of two benches, two chairs and a table, the focus is on the performances. Actor musicians play virtually throughout as an underscore with occasional original songs and dance by George Jennings and Sammy Fonfe creating a melancholy mournful period feel against which the story is told. We skip relatively quickly over Jane’s unhappy childhood in Gateshead Hall with the bullying John and heartless Mrs Reed and her eight-year stay at Lowood School although her friendship with Helen is touchingly portrayed. When she arrives at Thornfield Hall where Jane at the age of 18 becomes a Governess to Adele the story takes off.

Kelsey Short is wonderful as Jane Eyre leading us through the story with the first-person exposition in character reflecting the style of the original novel. From her first meeting with Edward Rochester (played by Ben Warwick) as he is thrown from his horse (portrayed with just a hanging reign!) until the moving final scene, the chemistry between them is excellent as they try to define and express their feelings for each other. He is aloof and distant at first but when he says “the only superiority I claim over you is age” we already sense the battle of two equals ahead. Jane too rather too quickly answers his question “Do you find me handsome?" with a “No”. The critical scenes when she is called by Rochester to tend to the injured Mr Mason, when she returns to Thornfield from visiting Aunt Reed to be met in the copse by Rochester and when she meets Bertha Mason are all beautifully played and we can see her affection for him and torment over his feelings towards her.

There is good support from Eleanor Toms, first as the consumptive Helen, then the bouncing excitable Adele and the snooty gold digger Blanche. Each is very different in character and demeanour and she simply and effectively creates each persona. Camilla Simson plays the other female characters including the unpleasant Aunt Reed, the housekeeper Mrs Fairfax, and the deranged Bertha Mason to good effect. Oliver Hamilton not only accompanies on the piano but plays the characters of the bully, John Reed, the visitor Mr Mason, and the clergyman St John Rivers.

Director Adrian McDougall keeps an even pace with simple groupings and cleverly raises the tension in the conflicts that Jane encounters as she tells her story and grows from an unhappy young girl into a heroic savour of troubled people. Of course, the original story has in its conclusion the most ludicrous coincidence of Jane’s uncle being a friend of the Mason’s and uncle to St John Rivers but it tidies up the loose ends and provides for a happy ending! This does not detract from the quality of the storytelling and the uplifting sense of well being and contentment that the heroine Jane’s strong moral character and determination helps bring about.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

Stream online until 28 February 2021

Price: £10
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