Jane Eyre

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

03/10/2008 - 19/10/2008

Otago Festival of the Arts

Production Details

Starring Laura Hill as Jane

Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre is one of the most popular English novels of all time. It is a great love story between Jane, the intelligent and pure young governess, and her worldly employer, Mr. Rochester. Complicating the possibility of romance is Rochester’s mad wife Bertha who is living in the attic.

A saga laced with oppression, suspense, horror, and passion, the story centres on Jane’s journey to free herself from the societal expectations of her day. Polly Teale’s adaptation for the stage, offers a new and dramatic look at this wonderful classic tale. It has now been staged around the world enthralling audiences and critics alike. It will be such a treat for Dunedin audiences to see this wonderfully dramatic retelling of a great classic.

"You feel you are looking into the heart of Bronte herself" The Times

Performance times:
Tuesday 6pm
Wed-Friday 7pm
Saturday 8pm
Sunday 4pm
School matinee performance: Wednesday October 15 at 11am

Ticket prices:
Adult $29.50
Senior $27.00
Member $24.50
Groups 10+ $25.00
University Students $19.50
Schools Groups 10+ $13.50
Family ticket prices
Adult $25.00
Children $12.50* When booked as a family group of 2 adults and 2 children

in order of appearance:
Jane Laura Hill
Bertha Anna Henare
John Reed Matt Hudson
Bessie Leaven Amy Straker
Abigail Sia Trokenheim
Mrs Sarah Reed Amy Tarleton
Robert Brocklehurst Malcolm Murray
Teacher Nathan Rimell
Helen Burns Sia Trokenheim
Mrs Alice Fairfax Amy Tarleton
Adèle Varens Sia Trokenheim
Grace Poole Amy Straker
Mesrour Malcolm Murray
Pilot Nathan Rimell
Edward Rochester Matt Hudson
Blanche Ingram Amy Straker
Lord Ingram Nathan Rimell
Lady Dent Malcolm Murray
Amy Eshton Sia Trokenheim
Louisa Eshton Amy Tarleton

Richard Mason Malcolm Murray
Clergyman Nathan Rimell
St John Rivers Nathan Rimell
Diana Rivers Amy Straker
Mary Rivers Sia Trokenheim
Woman Amy Straker
Schoolgirls, Servants, Passers-by played by members of the company

Stage Manager Elizabeth Webster
Assistant Stage Manager Sandra Stierle
Set Design Peter King
Set Construction Peter King, Matt Best
Costume Design Maryanne Wright Smyth

Lighting Design Rebekah Sherratt, David Good
Lighting Technician David Phillips
Sound Design Walter J Plinge
Sound Operator Elizabeth Webster
Props Brendan van den Berg, Elizabeth Webster, Sandra Stierle
Graphic Design Marti Rowe

2 hrs, incl. interval

Vivid life brought to dazzling adaptation

Review by Terry MacTavish 06th Oct 2008

"Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!" Generations of readers have thrilled to the passionate outcry of the despised orphan and governess, Jane Eyre.

There can be few who do not know the story: Jane’s harsh upbringing by the unloving Mrs Reed, the deprivations suffered at her hypocritical Christian boarding-school, her appointment as governess to the French ward of sardonic Mr Rochester, who is her soulmate; and then the terrible revelation that, locked in the attic of Thornfield, there rages the corrupt and crazed Bertha, whom he was tricked into marrying in Jamaica.

But Jane, as plain and as small as Bronte insisted she was herself, has the moral courage to fight for her right to love. She is a rebel, filled with a desperate hunger for life and experience.

Charlotte Bronte’s creative genius makes of Jane a woman we know as we do ourselves: we share her most secret thoughts. How does a playwright achieve this intimacy for an audience without endless soliloquies or an invented confidante? 

Adaptor Polly Teale had the brilliant notion of turning ‘the madwoman in the attic’ into Jane’s alter ego, representative of the fiery independent spirit that Victorian England was peculiarly determined to suppress in its womenfolk.

The play begins with exotic Bertha in red clinging to plain grey-garbed Jane, writhing with fury as Jane is maltreated by her coldly cruel aunt, and banished with her to the haunted Red Room. As Jane learns to repress her natural instincts, the Red Room becomes the attic of Thornfield Hall, where Mr Rochester has imprisoned his dangerous, degenerate wife. Now Bertha’s sensuous movements can express Jane’s dawning sexual passion for Rochester: truly a coup de theatre.

Teale’s interpretation is perfectly apposite. It is not a plodding determination to get through the plot – though surprisingly little is left out – any more than the book itself is plot-based. Bronte’s technique is poetic; imagery and symbolism pervade the novel, and rather than just telling a story, however magnificently melodramatic, it is a psychological investigation, ‘true to the experience of the whole woman’.

David Lawrence has invested Teale’s script with the energy and commitment to make this a richly satisfying evening’s theatre, even for the most devoted Bronte fan. Lawrence has remained true to Teale’s vision, aided by a strong cast and a powerfully atmospheric set of oppressive grey monoliths like giant tombstones. We cannot forget the constant onstage presence of the mad wife when she is visibly imprisoned at the top of a steep staircase, dangerously high above the stage and lit by an ominous red glow, which she enhances by gradually lighting candles.

All but scarlet Bertha are soberly dressed in white and grey; the servants, moving smoothly to rearrange the set, are enveloped in huge black aprons. White sheets transform the stage into a dormitory, flicking fans emulate the sophistication of the upper classes as the cast transform into the characters, even the animals, required. The choreography and staging are stunningly effective for the lurid pleasures of Jamaica, and the climactic destruction of Thornfield by, naturally, fire. The stirring Gothic melodrama and eerily supernatural aspects of the tale are given full rein, but the focus remains impeccably centred on Jane herself.

Laura Hill, with neat brown hair despite an errant fringe, and quakerish grey gown buttoned firmly to the neck, more than rises to the challenge of playing Jane, she soars. While her voice perhaps lacks the ‘sweet and low’ timbre to be expected of a demure governess, she is the epitome of fierce independence and courage. Her feverish awakenings to physical passion are vividly evoked, as she crushes Rochester’s coat to her body, tosses on her fold-away bed, or presses herself half-swooning against a blank grey wall. With three hours onstage, it is a marathon performance, but Hill remains committed and impressive right up to Jane’s last lovely lines, "The rain is over and gone, and there is a tender shining after it."

As mad Bertha, Anna Henare is a wonderful foil for her, exuding tropical heat, carelessly at ease in her skin, dancing with delicious abandon. She demonstrates effectively both joyous liberation and violent destructive power, which Jane must acknowledge, in order to be complete. Some of the most poignant moments arise from the merging of Jane’s two selves as they entwine, the visual manifestation of Jane’s acceptance of herself.

Seen against this powerful duo, the forces of evil are barely strong enough. The versatile Malcolm Murray, perfect as Bertha’s terrified brother, appears too jocular as Brocklehurst the ‘black marble clergyman’; Amy Tarleton too gentle as monstrous ‘stony-eyed’ Aunt Reed, and even Matt Hudson as moody Rochester somewhat lacks the requisite dark Byronic power, when compared with the intensity of Jane and her daemon.

Rochester is the ancestor of romantic heroes: "square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm grim mouth – all energy, decision, will – he made me love him without looking at me" and Hudson has a natural youthful elegance that suits the flashbacks to his innocent past better than the arrogant cynical master he has become. His relationship with Jane, however, is convincingly delineated, and we can believe she has found in him a ‘more vivid kind of goodness’, an intellectual companionship, and ultimately a love that is sexual as well as spiritual.

Altogether the cast work together admirably, switching characters with aplomb. Sia Trokenheim, saintly as Helen Burns, is enchanting in the contrasting role of Adele, the frivolous little French ward, and Amy Straker is equally imposing as sullen Grace Poole or conceited Blanche Ingram. Nathan Rimell is very popular with the audience as Rochester’s dog, though in that role he seems a distracting addition to the sensitive last scene. I prefer his portrayal of Rochester’s opposite, the sanctimonious St John Rivers who tells Jane pompously, "God and Nature fitted you for a missionary’s wife!"

It must be clear that Teale expects the actors to portray all the novel’s wide range of characters (apart from the curious omission of headmistress Miss Temple, who through loving discipline taught Jane self-control). Fortunately the actors without exception are skilled exponents of physical theatre, realistically creating a row of girls at a sewing lesson, well-drilled servants, or an indifferent crowd scurrying from the rain, but also capable of the more expressionistic debauchery of Jamaica, striking freeze frames, comic animal frolics, and bursts of song.

Lawrence has succeeded in bringing to vivid life this dazzling 1997 adaptation of one of the greatest novels of all time. It has me in a puzzle why NZ has waited so long. It is but one of a trilogy Teale has devised around the Brontes; it was 2004 when I thrilled to Diana Quick in After Mrs Rochester in Sydney, and since then Teale has written Bronte. All have made a real impact overseas and seem obvious choices for theatre here. The Fortune can take pride in leading the way with this enthralling production, which merits a sell-out season.


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