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A trailblazing heroine on stage

We have a few reviews of Sally Cookson's Jane Eyre, which is now on stage at Sheffield Lyceum. From Matlock Mercury:

The show is an absorbing, incisive and truthful adaptation of the work on which it is based.
Nadia Clifford is totally convincing as Jane, an abused but spirited girl who develops into a determined young woman who acts with integrity and compassion. Equally convincing is Tim Delap as Edward Rochester, Jane’s employer – flawed, tormented, witty and contradictory.
Other actors play multiple roles – Paul Mundell being outstanding as both the terrifying Mr Brocklehurst and Pilot, Rochester’s dog.
Much of the dialogue is taken straight from the novel. The poetry which Charlotte Bronte believed to be an essential aspect of her prose is supplied by three on-stage musicians and by some spectacular lighting.
A simple but versatile set facilitates a variety of startling images, and helps the play explore some of the novel’s themes – including the contrasting ones of confinement and freedom.
Melanie Marshall as Bertha, Rochester’s imprisoned first wife, is the surprise element in the adaptation: a figure of great dignity, with a wonderful singing voice, she observes all that is going on, including the strange and destructive actions she herself performs: her presence and her songs contribute to some of the show’s most memorable and moving scenes. (Alan Payne)
The Reviews Hub gives it 4 stars out of 5;
Nadia Clifford makes sense of the character in her near perfect portrayal of the slightly plain, small character (much like Brontë herself).
Rather than merely evoking sympathy and pity for Jane, Clifford depicts her journey, from abandoned orphan to slightly impertinent, inquisitive child, to strong minded, independent woman seeking freedom and refusing to be dictated to. Always questioning and unafraid to challenge superiors or the system (she refuses to call Mrs Reed ‘Aunt’) Jane’s most influential meeting is with Helen Burns at Lowood School, who teaches her “there are no wicked people, just deeds”.
Minimalist setting provides the backdrop for this renowned story – more multi-level climbing frame, which the characters access via ladders and steps, morphing into the many backdrops of Jane’s troubled life: her sanctuary in the library at Gateshead Hall; the imposing Thornfield with its many windows; the attic which hides Rochester’s most guarded secret.
At times the set appears a hindrance, the cast desperate to fully utilise it, slowing the pace and flow of this slick-paced piece, despite its hefty content and nearly three-hour running time. A soundtrack of inclement weather is enough to depict the rainy moorlands of Bronte’s Yorkshire, yet whilst this neutral staging is used to good effect, the piece transcending time and place, it highlights inconsistencies.
The character of Bertha is masterfully played by Melanie Marshall, her ‘madness’ or differences highlighted by her contrasting portrayal in which she sings her fairly static performance, as opposed to the rest of the ensemble who are very physical in their depictions. Marshall provides pitch-perfect renditions of Mad About the Boy and Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy with her commanding voice, and whilst they fit harmoniously within the piece, the anachronism is only questionable as the characters are all wearing period costume.
Despite a minor quibble, this production is otherwise flawless. The energy of the more than capable cast is to be applauded as they accelerate through several characters each (including Ben Cutler’s comedic depiction of Pilot, Rochester’s faithful dog), Jane Eyre and Rochester (Tim Delap) onstage for almost the entire performance.
The supporting cast also provides a welcome enhancement, working as Jane’s inner monologue. Physical theatre is creatively used, bringing the piece to life in moments where Jane wanders through the corridors of Thornfield lit by single bulbs moved in place by the ensemble, denoting travelling scenes and skilfully creating a breeze using sheets and perfect timing as Jane opens a window.
This is a brave adaptation – a powerful and relevant reworking to celebrate Bronte’s 170th anniversary of her trailblazing heroine. (Beverley Haigh)
From British Theatre Guide:
For lovers of Charlotte Brontë’s novel, it is important to point out that this is not a dramatisation or an adaptation, but a theatrical experience ‘based on’ and faithful to the plot-line of the original story.
Consequently, powerful scenes in the novel—like Jane’s terrifying incarceration in the Red Room, the death of Helen at Lowood School, or Jane’s half-demented wanderings over the Derbyshire moors—do not have the benefit of Brontë’s impassioned narrative and are, of necessity, passed over relatively quickly.
However, once the original has been firmly put out of mind, there is an exciting new devised play here, which places emphasis on Jane’s journey from ‘powerless child’ to ‘independent, free-thinking adult’ and presents not only Mrs Reed and Mr Brocklehurst as villains of the piece but makes us look with rather cooler eyes at Rochester’s willingness to lead the unwitting Jane into a bigamous marriage or St John Rivers’s insistence that she accompanies him to India as a missionary’s wife because this is God’s will. Fortunately Jane has the moral strength to refuse both offers.
In turning the novel into a play, Sally Cookson has opted for a linear dramatic version punctuated by songs and a representational set of levels and ladders which easily adapts to a variety of settings. This, along with the devised nature of the playtext, is strongly reminiscent of Brecht and has a similarly ‘distancing’ effect which countermands the emotional realism of the original.
Where the text of the play is largely realistic, the staging, design, lighting and acting style is thrillingly expressionistic. So actors create the many long stagecoach journeys through verbal sound and rhythmic movement, the full assembly of girls at Lowood School is represented by costumes lowered from the flies, window frames become symbols of escape and destruction and gender roles are swapped with ease. [...]
It is a very physical performance with all cast members climbing rapidly or balancing on ladders, or swiftly moving from one area of the stage to another while changing character in the blink of an eye. This is particularly true of Paul Mundel who is pompous and severe as Mr Brocklehurst, cowardly and weak as Mason and completely convincing in his well observed portrayal of Pilot the dog.
Evelyn Miller plays honest Bessie the maid and the sneering socialite Blanche Ingram. She also looks persuasively male as a tall, black-clad St John Rivers who tries to brow beat Jane into joining him in India.
The whole cast including the musicians assume roles as the Lowood girls, each indistinguishable in her dowdy uniform and headscarf. In these scenes, gender is irrelevant when all the children are subject to a repressive, unfair, sadistic regime where conformity means survival. It is Jane who learns to make a stand against injustice and for genuine moral integrity. (Velda Harris)
The Stage recommends it among this week's critics’ picks.

Another Jane Eyre on stage on the other side of the pond. We have a first look at Milwaukee Repertory Theater's production thanks to Broadway World.
Photo credit: Mikki Schaffner. Source.
Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents a critically acclaimed adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic story Jane Eyre in the Quadracci Powerhouse, beginning April 25 through May 21. Directed by KJ Sanchez (Harvey, The Diary of Anne Frank), Jane Eyre is a passionate romance meets thrilling psychological drama performed by ten actors playing more than 20 roles. The production combines Victorian-era costumes with inventive staging to bring new creativity and vitality to the classic story, considered one of the most widely read novels in the English language. BroadwayWorld has a first look at the cast in action below!
Jane Eyre cast features Margaret Ivey (Epic Theatre Ensemble's Measure for Measure), Rin Allen (New York Classical Theatre's Cyrano de Bergerac), Michael Sharon (New York City Opera's The Fantasticks), Andy Paterson (Peter and the Starcatcher), Christine Toy Johnson (Broadway's The Music Man), Tina Stafford (Paper Mill Playhouse's Cinderella), Rebecca Hirota (Manhattan Theatre Club's Vietgone), Damian Baldet (Broadway's Machinal), Jesse Bhamrah (Rep EPR), and Tanner Medding (Rep EPR).
Jane Eyre is adapted by Polly Teale (Tricycle Theatre's The Clearing), directed by KJ Sanchez (Harvey, The Diary of Anne Frank), with set design by Kris Stone (Milwaukee Shakespeare Theatre's Julius Caesar), costume design by Rachel Healy (Seafarer, The Cherry Orchard), lighting design by Brian Lilienthal (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom), and sound and composition design by Jane Shaw (Hartford Stage's Hamlet).
Jane Eyre begins performances April 25 and runs through May 21 in the Quadracci Powerhouse. Opening night is set for Friday, April 28 at 8pm.
This columnist from Norfolk Daily News discusses Jane Eyre and Charlotte's 'incredible vocabulary'.
However, what most impresses me about the novel of Jane Eyre is that its author was endowed with an incredible vocabulary.
Turn to any page and you’ll find words like “conjecture,” “sophistical,” “hebdomadal,” “physiognomy,” “interloper,” “confabulation,” “propitious,” and many, many others.
For a logophile (lover of words) like me, Jane Eyre is a thing of beauty to read. (Tammy Marshall)
While this other columnist from The Oxford Eagle refuses to read the Brontës' works.
But since that part of my life is behind me now it seems advisable to at least add to the mix some works that could be considered more edifying.
The question is: What?
There’s no shortage of possibilities. Despite having read a fair number of books over the decades, there are great (and embarrassing) gaps in my catalog.
Among them: “The Great Gatsby,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Gone With the Wind,” “The Grapes of Wrath.” Not to mention assorted Russian, French and British masterpieces.
I’m very strong on some authors, like Conan Doyle and P.G. Wodehouse, the creators of Sherlock Holmes and Bertie Wooster, respectively.
I’m totally shut out on some others: Steinbeck. Dostoevsky. The Brontes.
Keep in mind, I’m not looking now for merely a good read. I’m looking for the kinds of books that a reasonably educated person should not have to fake his knowledge of. (“Les Misérables”: Involves a baked good, right?) (Joe Rogers)
More on Rodrigo Fresán's novel La parte soñada on ABC (Spain):
Hay, sí, hilo argumental en el libro, quizá al final resumible en un arquetípico «chico busca chica» en el que el eterno femenino se reencarna sucesivamente en avatares que se bifurcan: Ella, Stella d’Or, Penélope, las hermanas Tulpa como encarnaciones futuristas y lunares de unas hermanas Brontë que son junto a Nabokov genios tutelares de esta novela. Pero el lector toma prestado de esa trama lo que más le conviene, eligiendo su camino, ejercitando su gusto y criterio y buscando activamente un placer más elaborado y al final más gozoso y memorable. (Javier Montes) (Translation)
According to New York Magazine,
 for many women the postpartum period is more Jane Eyre than Bridget Jones. (Kate Ristow)
Whatever that means.

Did You Make That? has a lovely interview with Ann Dinsdale from the Brontë Parsonage Museum regarding the Brontës' clothes. Inspired by To Walk Invisible, Poets and Lunatics discusses the life and times of Charlotte Brontë. MaximumPop! includes both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights on a list of life-changing books.

Finally, the Brontë Parsonage Museum shared and retweeted some pictures from last night's event (An Evening with Sally Wainwright and Ann Dinsdale at Ilkley Festival) on Twitter.

This post first appeared on BrontëBlog, please read the originial post: here

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A trailblazing heroine on stage


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