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Jane Eyre, Rosemary Branch Theatre

Charlotte Brontë

Adapted and directed by Bryony J. Thompson
Pros: A great cast and an interesting and loyal approach to the inspirational material.
Cons: While the attempt to preserve the original text was well meaning, it steered the production towards monotony at times.
Our Verdict: A loyal and enjoyable adaptation of a well-loved classic, but the concept might have worked better in theory than it did on stage.
Courtesy of the Rosemary Branch Theatre
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is a passionate, tragic, and beautifully written romance that has survived for centuries. If you’re unfamiliar, you might call it a Gothic Cinderella: it is the story of a poor, unloved orphan girl who finds love and fortune after falling in love with a wealthy man. The Rosemary Branch Theatre’s current adaptation of the 19th century novel brings the story to life with simple and creative measures, and despite some hiccups, it was a pleasure to watch the production unfold.
The novel is given in first person, and much of its charm comes from the constant and personable voice of Jane – I expected that dramatizing the story would cause it to lose much of the heart that propels it. Maintaining Jane’s voice was a clear concern of adapter and director Bryony J. Thompson. To avoid the problem, she designed the script to be grounded completely in Bronte’s text. Helen Russell-Clarke (Eyre) is supported by a chorus – all of whom narrate from Jane’s voice throughout the production. It was a clever mode of preserving the text while giving it some energy for the stage as well.
The style of the script caused its own trouble however – the constant narration preserved Jane’s voice, but kept all other performances dampened by the buffer of Jane’s explanation. The other actors only existed to act out the stories that Jane was narrating. This occasionally made it difficult to focus on any actions other than Jane’s. On a slightly separate note, the script rushes through Jane’s childhood somewhat (undoubtedly for reasons of time), refusing to dwell on the events that are meant to make us yearn for her happiness during the latter part of the book.
Despite these problems, the six member ensemble deserves accolades – they were able to switch seamlessly between various characters with believability. That they were able to populate the entire world of the novel with vigor and clarity was a true triumph. The stand out performance was undoubtedly Rob Pomfret’s Mr. Rochester; he truly managed to breathe life into the character, and I was surprised and thrilled by the amount of wry humour he was able to incorporate. It was a creative but welcome deviation from the many portrayals I’ve seen of the same man in film.
In terms of the design, I was torn about whether I liked the overwhelming whitewash scheme. The stage was painted off-white from top to bottom, all the women wore matching off-white gowns, and the men wore suits of the same colour. On the one hand, I thought it quite ingenious considering the constant shifts in location and character, and the fact that at one point or another, every character spoke the thoughts of Jane; differentiation may have caused more confusion than anything else. On the other hand, I felt a bit lost in it at times, and it contributed to the production becoming slightly monotonous when added to the fact that the book is effectively being recited. The use of chairs as the only props elicited similar effects: they assisted in the transience of scene and character, but they again contributed to a slightly a bland experience.
Jane Eyre is a great story, and this production does its best to capture a huge beast by adapting it into a play of one and half hours. If you love the novel, or want to experience it for the first time, it’s certainly worth a visit. There are some great elements at play, and certainly some performers to keep an eye on, but ultimately these were small, independent strokes of brilliance that failed to be as cohesive as intended.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Jane Eyre runs at the Rosemary Branch Theatre until 5th May 2013.
Box Office: 020 7704 6665 or book online at http://www.rosemarybranch.co.uk/#/jane-eyre/4572826082

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