Theatre in Wales

Plays and dance productions in Wales since 1982...

Jane Eyre by Michael Berkeley (Composer)
First presented in 2000 by Music Theatre Wales

   There are 4 reviews of Music Theatre Wales's Jane Eyre in our database:
Jane Eyre by Michael Berkeley (Composer)
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New Theatre, Cardiff
July 14, 2003
Yeah, this was OK. A very pleasant way (thanks to the New Theatre’s efficient air conditioning) to spend a warm summer evening. I did feel in “Good Company”, sipping my warm port as I turned the pages of an animated photograph album depicting the life of this rather attractive young Victorian woman.

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is an exemplary novel written in an intimate literary style. It may only cover about ten years of Jane’s life but a lot of things happen to her. Sue Pomeroy’s adaptation has bravely attempted to tell us the whole story. She has to depict action in dialogue before us but she does also manage to capture some of the flavour of the uniqueness of the original writing.

We are not in the world of wrap around cinema. This is very much a ‘staged’ piece of theatre and succeeds highly as such. Dennis Saunder’s single, basic but suitably evocative set with its good lighting design serves well as each of the four locations Jane passes through as her life progresses. Clare Wilkie’s Jane is all devotees of the novel would want. Her presence from the very opening of the play, as we see the orphaned young Jane, a delightful performance from Tryphena Mulford, so severely treated by her foster mother, tells us that this is her story and by the end, a story we are pleased to be a part of.

Despite the oppression of her first home at Gateshead and at her school in Lowood, Jane insists on speaking her mind, marking her out as an early feminist. As school friend Helen Burns, Katie Pattison gifted us with a well observed characterisation and a fine clarity of delivery that is that key that makes British acting the quality art form that all actors must aspire to.

The clarity of the opening lines of any play is critical. As an audience our ears have not yet become attuned, actors must take responsibility for us to hear what they are saying and apply strong articulation at this point in any play. Not for the first time I had to struggle to hear the opening lines. I don’t think my hearing is failing yet!

The section of the story we are eagerly awaiting comes when Jane meets Mr. Rochester. For me Brian Deacon didn’t quite bring this off. Clearly he is very irascible and not a particularly gentlemanly person but the actor fails to give us sufficient charm or to become a loveable rogue and therefore we feel a bit cheated and can’t be all that pleased when Jane decides to live ‘happy ever after’ with him. But I guess she’ll bring out the best in him. Here again as Rochester’s ‘ward’ Adele, Tryphena Mulford cheers us with her expressions of childish joy and delight.

Grace Pool’s electronic screams were a bit over the top, some of the effects could have been done with a little more care and ten minutes off the end would have added to the aesthetic. Despite this, with good support from all the other members of the cast. an informing and worthwhile experience.
Michael Kelligan
Jane Eyre by Michael Berkeley (Composer)
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New Theatre, Cardiff
July 18, 2003
Sometimes, insisted Sigmund Freud, a cigar is just a cigar.

Just as, I suppose, sometimes a mad woman in an attic is just a mad woman in an attic.

For evidence, see the first Mrs Rochester in Sue Pomeroy's version of Charlotte Bronte's romantic blockbuster.

Not for Ms Pomeroy, who has adapted the novel and directed it for her Good Company production, is the experience of many readers and generations of eager scholars that Jane Eyre is a poetic internal narrative with innumerable problems.

The devil is in the detail, and there is a lot of detail in 650 pages that cannot be included in a condensed stage adaptation.

As with previous productions of classics from this large-scale touring company, turning a novel into a play can entail a focus on storyline and character at the expense of the imagination - but Jane Eyre is essentially an ambitious tale of what goes on inside a young woman's head.

Charlotte Bronte published the novel as an alleged

autobiography "edited" by the (male) pseudonymous Currer Bell - a double bluff that only adds to the problematics of reading.

At the New we have no flirting with any notion of the metaphors, the mad woman in the attic being but the most obvious example.

We see quite clearly that Mrs Rochester is real, white and mad, putting paid to quite an industry of interpretations.

I wouldn't want to suggest that this is a purely literal translation because the design, especially the lighting (Jules Deering creates lots of patterns thrown by light through windows, notably a cross) and the acting suggests a state of heightened reality.

The characters deliver their lines in a strangely affected period-drama style so that we are continually reminded that this is a fiction set in another time and another world.

What it doesn't do is convince us of the emotional force of this epic work.

Clare Wilkie's Jane is too goody-goody and too impassive when we hear only her spoken words rather than her thoughts, while Brian Deacon's Rochester sounds all bombast (and too often unintelligible bombast at that), and we cannot really believe that this highly-moral 20-year-old girl would fall heavily in love with a 40-year-old amoral roué.

Key moments, without the momentum created by the first-person passion of a book, seem to fall flat.

There are plenty of melodramatic flashes of Gothic horror but the albeit brief moment when Jane and Rochester communicate telepathically, surely the climax of the love story, is absent and the fire that destroys Thornfield is not only devoid of symbolismbut of theatrical impact.

Ms Pomeroy seems to have decided Jane Eyre (a work she claims to have been affected by since she was a teenager - something she shares with many women, I fancy) is a mix of horror, Christian debate, Victorian inhumanity, individual strength and the triumph of true love, all wrapped up as a rattling good yarn, and as such her production is entertaining and dramatic.

But it didn't move me, it didn't intrigue me and it didn't challenge me. It neither showed me anything new nor emphasised anything significant, told me little about life then and nothing about life now.

Its blinkered vision excludes the richness of the text and the passion of the feelings. It inevitably diminishes a powerful, complex and unique novel.But it was OK, I guess.
David Adams
Jane Eyre by Michael Berkeley (Composer)
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New Theatre, Cardiff
July 19, 2003
Theatrical versions of classic novels – what can they offer audiences? A chance to see a literary heroine’s journey through life played out perhaps, minus the boring bits, and with the emphasis on the book’s moments of high drama?

A not unreasonable expectation, you might say, which is fulfilled by Good Company during the famous wedding scene in their take on Jane Eyre.

A priest is about to marry Jane and her wealthy employer Rochester, when suddenly a tall double-door, facing the audience to the rear of the stage, bursts open. A solicitor declares that the groom already has a wife, whom he has imprisoned in the attic.

Swift transition to Rochester’s house, where the estranged wife lunges at her oppressive husband: a struggle ensues, before she is restrained and tied to a chair.

This traumatic episode demonstrates the best of Sue Pomeroy’s direction, with the cast’s collective energy producing a tangible excitement. Alas, this impressive pace is not sustained, and I found myself wishing there were more scenes like this, centred around physical action rather than lengthy bouts of dialogue.

Where the acting is concerned, Brian Deacon is impressive as Rochester, with a speaking voice powerful enough to fill the auditorium. Ex-Eastenders actress Clare Wilkie’s mature, robust qualities enhance her portrayal of freedom-seeking Jane.

Jane’s resilience is even more impressive in the context of trials endured during her youth. However, the play failed to convey the loneliness of Jane’s childhood, which Charlotte Brontë’s text depicts so well.

For instance, I was hoping to see a boot camp style representation of Lowood School, where Jane is sent aged 10. However, Miss Scatcherd, the schoolmistress who becomes a symbol of this bullying culture in the book, is disappointingly tame, played here by Judith Paris.

Technically, it isn’t brilliant. Apart from a few intriguingly subtle lighting effects, Jane’s ill-fated hike, for example, through the Yorkshire countryside, is the pick of the awkwardly performed physical sequences.

What would be so simple to record effectively on film becomes comical onstage, as Ms Wilkie can do nothing but aimlessly circle the (dark but still visible) living-room set which had curiously and redundantly been left on stage, in order to give the impression of being lost. A blast of dry ice merely underlined the lack of technical assets at the company’s disposal.

It soon became apparent that Good Company’s traditional approach of remaining faithful to the text, while perhaps keeping Brontë fans happy, resulted in a slow-moving and wordy play. This may have satisfied the expectations of some, but the hopes I had held of a modern and – dare I say it – original perspective, or at least some aesthetically engrossing visuals, were dashed by the bland straightforwardness of the adaptation.

These considerations became irrelevant, however, when I concluded that this novel – all 400 pages of it – would transfer better to screen than stage.
Daniel Lombard
Superb performances, great ensemble work!
Jane Eyre by Michael Berkeley (Composer)
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Wales Millennium Centre
June 27, 2017
With a loud and sharp wail Jane is born. Nadia Clifford rushes towards us down a sharp ramp beginning a remarkable performance that totally captivates and deeply moves this packed audience for the next three hours, which do pass extraordinary quickly as we remain fixed on this beautifully told story.

As Jane moves through her difficult life the quality of Clifford’s performances goes on increasing. Eventually as she starts to fall in love with the charismatic Edward Rochester of Tim Delap she becomes achingly real and works her way right into the hearts of all of us.

Of course, a lot happened before that. The orphaned Jane, now ten is living with her widowed aunt . She and her three children have little time for Jane and not for the first time in her burgeoning life she is made to suffer by these insensitive and uncaring people. She does have one friend, Bessie the children’s maid.

We see Jane’s emerging as a strong personality despites the many set backs that beset her in the way. She is sent to a school for poor and orphaned girls, Lowood. She is humiliated by the master but she is also befriended and helped by another pupil Helen. Due to the awful conditions there, Helen dies of consumption comforted by Jane. Jane becomes a teacher at the school and after two years she decides to move on.

She becomes governess to the young Adele, a ward of Mr. Rochester at Thornfield Hall. We see her become a determined young lady with a strong conscience valuing her newly won freedom and her Christian faith. She has come on a long journey. The production completes the full circle. As the saved, but blinded Rochester and Jane celebrate the birth of their child.

The production is a very fine example of ensemble playing; the cast have all played an important part in adapting Bronte’s novel for the stage, giving us a clearly and dynamic account of this great story.

I found the ‘abstract’ setting disturbing at first, though the burning fires were very effective. This collection of ramps, ladders and windows was merely for a meaningless background to the narrative but it was not very long before the wonderful strength of the acting from every member of the cast completely won me over.

Director Sally Cookson was certainly at one with her cast and her use of the on-stage musicians melded perfectly into the narrative. There was some very powerful singing from Melanie Marshall.
In was indeed a very powerful and enthralling evening. – SEE IT!

Michael Kelligan

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