Written by Charlotte Brontë, the classic that is Jane Eyre never fails to impress audiences – whether on film, TV or in the theatre.
I viewed this particular performance (a world premiere) online – a necessity in these Covid lockdown times – and it wasn’t until the final words were uttered in the final scene, and I lifted my head from my computer, that I realised I had become totally and utterly engrossed in what I had witnessed on my 13ins screen.
Filmed in Bracknell last November, it was originally scheduled to grace Hull Truck Theatre’s stage in March 2020, but the coronavirus put paid to that.
So, settling down on my sofa at home, coffee and snacks at the ready and my husband promising not to utter a sound, I entered the fascinating world of the well-known orphan, Jane Eyre.
Being the age before electricity, the stage setting was suitably dark and dreary – a tad too dark at times, but that’s my only negative point.
In a masterclass of acting, Kelsey Short as Jane Eyre, regaled us with her life story – from her 10-year-old self being cruelly mistreated whilst in the “care” of her Aunt Reed (just one of five roles on the night for a very versatile Camilla Simon), and her two spoilt brats, Georgianna (again, one of five roles for the talented Eleanor Toms) and John (“only” one of three roles for the equally talented Oliver Hamilton) – to her eventual fulfilled existence. But more of that later.
Aunt Reed, desperate to get shut of poor little Jane, sends her off with the very strict Mr Brocklehurst (one of two main roles for the multi-talented Ben Warwick), who runs Lowfield School with a rod of iron.
Around the age of 16, Jane answers an advert for a governess position at a Thornfield Hall. Greeted by housekeeper, Mrs Fairfax (Camilla Simson thoroughly entertained in this role), Jane is to educate a young French girl by the name of Adèle Varens (Eleanor Toms), the might-be, might-not-be offspring of Thornfield’s master, Mr Edward Fairfax Rochester (Ben Warwick).
Months pass and Jane eventually gets to meet her employer with the pair coming to enjoy each other’s company, as equals.
However, strange things happen in the dark and menacing Thornfield Hall – Jane often hears a woman’s demonic laughter and once she follows a dark figure in the hall, only to find smoke coming from Mr Rochester’s bedroom. Bursting in she wakes him, saving his life – strengthening their bond even more.
A bond that cannot be broken even with the arrival of one Miss Blanche Ingram (Eleanor Toms), attracted by Mr Rochester’s fortune, rather than the man himself.
Much to Jane’s relief, the subject of her affection soon sees off the snobby fortune-hunter, and I’m not spoiling the story by revealing he proposes to Jane, who accepts.
However, a shocking revelation at the ceremony results in Jane fleeing, and making a new life for herself at Moor House, with the kindly siblings – the religious St John Rivers (Oliver Hamilton) and his sisters, Mary (Camilla Simson) and Diana (Eleanor Toms).
A year later, at the age of 19 and in possession of an inheritance which she shares with the Rivers, Jane is back at Thornfield and faces devastating news.
No more spoilers from me, but, dear reader (as Jane would say), all’s well that ends well.
I really liked Ben Warwick’s depiction of Mr Rochester. Many Mr Rochesters I’ve seen on film, stage and TV, were ill-mannered and bad-tempered at best, but Warwick seemed to add a lightness to the role that I instantly warmed to.
Kelsey Short perfected Jane’s downtrodden demeanour throughout with her body language seamlessly ranging between dejection, sadness, fear, anger, joy and merriment. I can’t recall her ever leaving the stage, she was simply perfect.
Just five actors brought to life so many different characters – musically, vocally and dramatically – that I can’t praise any of them highly enough.
All voices, without exception, were loud, clear and tuneful.
The simple stage setting remained, rightly, dreary throughout and didn’t detract our eyes from the actors’ gritty and gripping performances.
It was a little slice of theatre heaven and just what I needed during this Covid lockdown. My grateful thanks to all concerned.
Reviewer: Jackie Foottit
Reviewed: 16th February 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★
Written by Charlotte Brontë, adapted by Nick Lane
Presented by Blackeyed Theatre in association with South Hill Park Arts Centre
Dates: Running from Monday, February 22nd to Sunday, February 28th, 2021
Tickets: £12 single viewing; £18 multiple viewing. Streaming online. To book, visit www.hulltruck.co.uk
A proportion of the value of your ticket will go Hull Truck Theatre.
Directed by Adrian McDougall and music by George Jennings
Recommended for ages 11+