So many reasons why Phil might not have liked Jane Eyre.
It’s “devised by the Company” (under the direction of Sally Cookson), which means
adults actors indulge themselves playing horses, windows, flickering fires, dogs and, oh my word, scamper around pretending to be children.
Performed in what appears to be an adventure playground, or, more likely, the rehearsal set (Michael Vale), there are wooden platforms to cross, bars to swing from and ladders to climb (ad nauseam); no doubt it will look lovely when it’s finished.
Oh, and there’s an on stage band, so the cast break into song willy-nilly, thus adding to the running time, which is advertised as 3 and a half hours but actually comes in at a still hardly nippy 3 hours and 15 minutes. Originally a two-part, four-and-a-half-hour production at the Bristol Old Vic (who co-produce). Goodness.
Too add to this torment we are gifted a Rochester who sports a hipster beard.
But then again…
There are so many reasons why Phil thoroughly was absorbed by it:
Our Heroine: A splendidly compelling and unaffected lead in Madeleine Worrall. She’s obliged to play Jane from her birth to becoming a mother herself. Phil was on her side throughout. We’re taken through a lot, from the appalling childhood abuse dished out by her aunt (Maggie Tagney) to her oppressive education and then to becoming Thornhill Hall governess to a hugely irritating French child, Adele. Jane appears to mature before our very eyes. That she convinces as a 10 year-old is something of an achievement. No cringeworthy Blood Brothers children-as-adults fannying around here (apart from Adele).
A Voice Second Only To Brian Blessed: Felix Hayes’ Rochester, master of Thornhill and Jane’s employer is understandably surly given he has to share a house with his charge, Adele. That voice though. No wonder Jane’s swooning. He’s so charismatic that we must take his beard on the chin.
The Dog: Rochester’s pet Pilot. Craig Edwards gives good dog. A bit of comedy. We kinda got the gist though as there was plenty of time for the joke to wear a bit thin.
Sounds So Wrong On Paper But It Works: Melanie Marshall (who sang at Charles and Diana’s wedding apparently), doubling as the mad woman in the “attic” sings throughout the show. Her rendition of “Mad About the Boy”, to show what’s going on in Jane’s head (as if we hadn’t already guessed), is nothing short of mesmerising.
Band On The Run: The rest of the music’s pretty good too. Sometimes the male musicians double up as other characters. Seeing them scurrying about as orphaned girls delivers some Monty Python-esque amusement.
Words We Should Use More Often: Lowood Institution, where Jane is educated, employs tough love. Laura Elphinstone, who like most of the cast plays several roles, including the irritating enfant terrible (did we mention how irritating Adele is?) makes a great fist of her other child role, the sympathetic, sensitive, sickly Helen Burns who, as a punishment, is forced to wear a sign round her neck with “SLATTERN” on it. We rather like that word.
Second Best Proposal Insult: Second only to the wonderfully cack-handed proposal scene in Three Days in the Country, Rochester woos Jane with “plain and little as you are”. Jane doesn’t seem offended, she’s probably just swooning at that voice…
Rochester’s Way With Words…but then he’s already described his previous intended, Blanche Ingram, as “She’s a strapper, a real strapper”. Even he can make it sound like a compliment, or perhaps we misheard?
In Which Rochester Discovers He’s A Poet: Sprawling in an armchair with his feet on the dog, Rochester displays his Byronic countenance, “Pull up your chair Miss Eyre.”
In Which Jane Discovers The Necessity Of Euphemisms: Fighting a swoon, Jane says, “Mrs Fairfax, I saw Mr Rochester take his horse out this afternoon.”
Runaway Bride: Frustrated by an aborted wedding to Rochester and a few brief snogs (usually at the top of a ladder), Jane runs away, meets a clergyman, who is also her cousin, and nearly accepts his offer of a missionary position.
But You Know The Rest: Charlotte Brontë‘s story is so familiar you probably know what happens next. Bet you didn’t expect this though…