Photos: Alex Harvey-Brown
One of the most compelling, intelligent adaptations of Jane Eyre I’ve ever seen, Nick Lane’s five-hander version for the ever reliable Blackeyed Theatre stays remarkably true to Charlotte Bronte’s iconic novel. It retains the essence of the radical feminist philosophy which underpins the novel but which is often sidelined by sentimentalist adaptors. Yes, of course the plot is simplified by leaving out or conflating minor characters but it cuts adeptly and smoothly to the chase.
I liked the way Lane has used a certain amount of narration to audience by Kelsey Short as Jane to connote the novel’s autobiographical format. And the sensitive integration of very accomplished actor musicianship with atmospheric folksy Yorkshire song, drawing room numbers and a lot more (music by George Jennings) works nicely. The sinister col legno cello to suggest the creepy, gothic invasion of Jane’s bedroom is an exceptionally good moment.
All five cast members are strong with Camilla Simson’s versatility as a homely Mrs Fairfax, disdainful Mrs Ingram and gibbering pitiful Bertha (among other roles) being a striking showcase of acting talent.
Short’s Jane has delightful resolute control, tempered with passion. Her silences are as good as anything she says too because this Jane thinks visibly. It’s a near perfect interpretation.
Ben Warwick is suitably gruff but ultimately warmly attractive as Rochester. He ensures that the audience feels huge compassion for this man as his predicament unrolls and he loses, or nearly loses, everything.
Eleanor Toms as Blanche, Adele, Mary Rivers and Oliver Hamilton (excellent violin playing) as St John, Richard Mason and John Reed both convince completely each time they switch persona.
This elegant, rather beautiful production is another triumph for Blackeyed Theatre and a real tribute to director Adrian McDougal. What a pity, therefore that it clearly hadn’t been well publicised in Luton. I was one of an audience of just 18 people at the matinee I attended.