Jane Eyre – Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
Screenwriter: Charlotte Bronte
Adapted by Chris Bush
Director: Zoe Waterman
How to adapt a novel like Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre? One way is to focus on one part – probably the Rochester episodes – and leave the rest aside? Or can you take a contemporary approach and refocus our gaze on the characters? Or just cover the whole plot and let the audience out at 11 p.m.? Or – better yet – you take the Chris Bush and Zoe Waterman approach and treat the whole book wittily, but focus on the most revealing scenes, tying it all together with song and dance.
Three examples will suffice to show the originality of this approach. At first, when Jane is to be taken to Lowood, she stops the action, insists that she won’t go to Lowood until she has her say, and, once the actors get back to their old positions, delivers a fierce speech. Then there’s how Helen Burns’ death is recorded in a sleep and seven years disappear in an instant. Helen is alive when Jane falls asleep, but when she wakes tormented, Miss Temple is there to comfort her from her bad dream. Then there’s the moment when Jane meets her predecessor, the unhinged Bertha Mason. Upon entering the room where Bertha is, Eleanor Sutton is immediately and briefly transformed into a madwoman.
Equally surprising is the treatment of Jane and Mr. Rochester. Jane herself is wild in the opening scenes, unable to sit still, and gradually and slowly transforms, but her brash escape from St John has been prepared. Eleanor Sutton judges the role perfectly, especially in the exchanges with Mr. Rochester where she refuses what she considers to be his immoral offer. The balance between the two is helped by the fact that Rochester is not presented as just a romantic hero, but flawed and indecisive – and definitely Yorkshire. The chemistry between Sam Jenkins-Shaw and Sutton is developing beautifully.
Then there is the music of Simon Slater. Apparently it is taken from popular songs of the 19and century. The instruments played by the cast of six comedian-musicians range from trumpet to double bass, providing background music as well as song and dance.
The remaining four ensemble members double and triple roles, with an unlikely comedic cast, Nia Gandhi bouncing as Adele, for example. Tomi Ogbaro has his best moments as the tall, dignified, self-satisfied Mr. Brocklehurst. Sarah Groarke contributes a cheerful and kind Mrs. Fairfax and Zoe West adds some pretty neat banjo playing to her dignified Miss Temple.
It’s true that the Rivers episode has less impact than the Thornfield scenes that precede it, but that’s probably true of most readers’ reactions to the novel. The final scene, in Ferndean, is incredibly moving.
Works until 30and April 2022