Paul T Davies reviews Blackeyed Theatre’s touring production of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre now streaming online
Blackeyed Theatre Online
A novel whose popularity in theatre adaptations is beginning to rival A Christmas Carol, this is the second version of Jane Eyre I have watched online this year, the other being the National Theatre’s. Whilst Blackeyed Theatre have fewer resources, and a much smaller cast, it’s as inventive as the National’s, and, free of some of the razzle dazzle needed to fill a bigger stage and auditorium, it has a clear connection to the narrative and hits the major events like an arrow finding the bullseye.
Victoria Spearing’s excellent set indicates the attic we find the madwoman in, but the text also allows us to see the nature outside, and movement and lighting in the space cleverly mark out locations with ease. A strong ensemble conveys Nick Lane’s adaptation with energy and commitment; anyone new to the story will not be confused. Kelsey Short is an excellent Jane, particularly in her development from childhood (where much is made of her wildness) to a woman of huge inner strength with a strong moral compass and capacity to love.
Ben Warwick is equally strong as Rochester, a man very much of his time, a hypocrite whose defence mechanisms are eroded by love. The scene where he confesses his secret and his subsequent downfall are particularly strong, eliciting sympathy for the man. Camilla Simson, Eleanor Toms and Oliver Hamilton show an astonishing versatility performing all the other characters, and the music by George Jennings is atmospheric and supports the narrative beautifully.
What the adaptation cannot do is completely conceal that some of Jane’s early story, though essential, can drag a little, and there are times when, although it would have been different watching the play live in a theatre, the pace through a screen can feel a little slow. This is also the case when Jane and Rochester are apart, but much of that is to do with the source material. As it is, this is a solid, confident adaptation of the novel, and there is much to enjoy for new and returning viewers to Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel.
Available at blackeyedtheatre.co.uk from 6pm on Friday 27 November 2020 until Sunday 28 February 2021.