Middle School Play - Jane Eyre
'Jane Eyre' was an ambitious, riveting and thought-provoking production with some superb performances
The very thought of presenting Charlotte Bronte’s massive ‘Jane Eyre’ on stage with a cast of middle-school actors may have seemed dauntingly ambitious but Mrs Packer’s imaginative production of Polly Teale’s ingenious adaptation soon laid any such concerns to rest. This was a moving, passionate and thought-provoking piece of theatre that held its very mixed audience enthralled from beginning to end.
The most prominent device employed by the adaptation was the clever intertwining of the characters of Jane, the eponymous heroine, and Bertha, the first Mrs Rochester gone mad in the attic. The play opens with them together on stage almost sharing a character, both dangerously passionate, imaginative and headstrong children that respectable nineteenth-century society must bring to heel. It is clear that Bertha and Jane not only share parallel experiences, but they are so close and intimate that the former is almost the alter ego of the latter. While Jane finds herself locked away at school and then in her roles as teacher and governess, Bertha is soon confined to her attic, where she stays, visibly ‘on’, throughout the play as a terrible reminder of the passionate emotional life that, suppress it how we may, is forever threatening to erupt into violence.
To this clever conceit, Mrs Packer added an extra layer of intrigue and thoughtfulness by using multiple casting. Thus there were four Janes and three Berthas, with two of the Janes and two of the Berthas doubling up, and there were two Rochesters as well. Far from being confusing, this only helped to make the story clearer by underlining the development of the characters. So, Holly Godliman started out as the imaginative tear-away child Jane, while Lucy Tait had learned poise, self-control and cold dignity as the young school-teacher Jane and the initial Rochester governess, allowing Jenny Shpeter the passion of the character thrown into confusion and then destitution by the discovery of you-know-who in the you-know-where before Miranda Worth found harmony, balance and love as the mature, now whole Jane, finally able to accept her role as the second Mrs Rochester. Meanwhile, Nadia Dayem was charming but dangerous as the young Bertha and then Miranda Worth was dangerous but sympathetic as the first Mrs Rochester in the attic, just flirting with the possibilities of a lit candle, before Jenny Shpeter took her on her tragic, chaotic, passionate final descent. For the men, brilliant casting saw Teddy Coward as the early Mr Rochester, seething and stern, whereas Jack Bowman revealed the vulnerable, romantic soul that Jane must set free from the chains that bind him.
These principals were very well supported by a large and strong cast, as we have come to expect from this extraordinary generation of performers, with some notable newcomers and less familiar faces among the more established figures. Too many to mention them all, but Charlotte Le Feuvre was as excellent as ever as Mrs Fairfax, as was Maddie Kelly as Adele, while the likes of Jamie Thompson, Xander Chevallier and Dennis Rigby were among many who certainly caught the eye. The set (Mr Gray and Assistant Production Manager Chris Edwards, who also took the photos), the costumes (Mrs Borrows, who else?) and the technical team all lived up to the very high production values we have come to expect, and we must thank them all, the cast and especially the ever-resourceful, ever-surprising director Mrs Packer for another superb evening in the Theatre.