Mark Ludmon reviews Jane Eyre adapted by Nick Lane presented online by Blackeyed Theatre.
Blackeyed Theatre Online
At the start of Blackeyed Theatre’s version of the 19th-century classic novel Jane Eyre, we find Jane isolated and alone – but she’s not lonely, she’s happy. As many of us sit watching theatre streamed into our homes, she feels very much a hero for our times, a solitary figure trying to hold on to her identity, and her reason, despite the challenges that the world throws at her. She shifts from an early dread of solitude to self-sufficiency and contentment in her own company – something that is thoroughly enviable right now.
This solid, faithful stage adaptation, written by Nick Lane, successfully distils all the key elements and characters of Charlotte Brontë’s story into a lively two hours. It takes us back to her childhood as an orphan, mistreated and unloved by her sanctimonious aunt and packed off to a tough boarding school, and onward through her later adventures as a governess and teacher as her life intersects with the mysterious Mr Rochester. Directed by Adrian McDougall, it rarely lets up pace with extra energy thanks to George Jennings’ live music and songs performed by the cast and the work of movement director Sammy Fonfe.
The story is told by an ensemble of just five actors, led by the excellent Kelsey Short who combines steeliness and vulnerability in her portrayal of Jane. The others take on multiple roles, including Camilla Simson who is fearsome as Aunt Reed but also adds moments of laugh-out-loud comedy as Mrs Fairfax. Ben Warwick is a charming, likeable Rochester, perhaps lacking the more menacing elements that traditionally make him appear a figure to be distrusted. Eleanor Toms flits between characters ranging from the saintly Helen Burns to the brattish Adele while Oliver Hamilton is an appealing St John Rivers. The gothic style of the novel is beautifully conjured up by Victoria Spearing’s set, from the rustling childhood terrors of the Red Room to Mr Rochester’s gloomy Thornfield Hall, atmospherically lit with shifting light and shadows by lighting designer Alan Valentine.
Originally conceived in 2018, this adaptation returned to the stage last September and its tour of the UK was halted by the Covid-19 shutdown in March. It briefly returned to its original home at the Wilde Theatre at South Hill Park Arts centre in Bracknell in Berkshire in early November, where the performance in front of an actual live audience was filmed for this streaming version. Aside from the applause and the occasional laughter, there is inevitably something lost in transferring a dynamic show to the flat screen but this remains an enjoyable, pacy re-telling of a much-loved story.
Tickets at Blackeyed Theatre Online from 6pm on Friday 27 November 2020 until Sunday 28 February 2021.