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 7 reviews of Music Theatre Wales's Jane Eyre in our database:
Jane Eyre by Michael Berkeley (Composer)
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on tour
November 16, 2000
WHEN Music Theatre Wales premiered Michael Berkeley’s new opera Jane Eyre at the prestigious Cheltenham Festival earlier this year it could not have been prepared for the amount of interest it would generate worldwide.
Glowing reviews of the Cardiff-based company’s performance filled national newspapers but, perhaps more importantly, the festival allowed critics from countries as far away as Thailand, America and Australia to view the performance.

The New York Times praised the “high standard” performance while The Sydney Morning Herald said the principal singers “sustained eloquence”.

“We do a lot of international work these days and we are very keen to be seen as a cultural ambassador for Wales,” said director Michael Mc-Carthy.

Following its premiere, the chamber opera was taken to festivals in Buxton and Aberystwyth, where it received similar responses.

Although MTW was building a reputation as a world-renowned musical company before staging the darkly psychological opera, it now seems to have been transported into another league.

“We are delighted the performances went down well and the work of Music Theatre Wales was unanimously praised.”

Jane Eyre has now been revived for a short UK tour and earlier this month MTW was the first Welsh company to perform at the Royal Opera House since its reopening.

Next Tuesday will be the last chance for people in Wales to see the production when it is staged at Theatr Gwynedd in Bangor.

But McCarthy hopes to keep it alive for some time to come.

“We have already had interest from promoters in Cyprus and Rome and we are hoping to release it on CD.

“It will be broadcast on Radio 3 on December 2 and we are also pursuing various interests from TV companies.”

The success of Jane Eyre has been even more deserved when you consider the teething difficulties it encountered. MTW initially started discussions with Berkeley five years ago about commissioning a chamber opera from him.

About two years later, the composer came back to them with the

idea for Jane Eyre and the company was immediately hooked.

“It’s a gothic piece about passion and romance and desire and frustration, which had a compelling musical starting point,” said McCarthy.

After spending many months working on the first act of the opera, Berkeley was devastated to discover that a bag containing his production notes was stolen from his car.

He decided to go back to the drawing board and the opera was completed in June this year. David Malouf is the librettist.

McCarthy is now looking forward to the last Welsh performance of Jane Eyre, which will be followed by MTW’s appearance at the Hudders-field Contemporary Music Festival on November 23.

“It’s the major contemporary music festival for the UK so our performance will be essential.”

Karen Price
Jane Eyre by Michael Berkeley (Composer)
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Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
July 9, 2000
To dare to compress an epic Victorian novel into a short, taut opera with only five characters requires a touch of madness. When the book in question is Jane Eyre, that might prove an asset. Mrs Rochester up in the attic may be the one who is certified insane, but Mr Rochester and Jane herself are not averse to morbid imaginings and distinctly odd behaviour.

Pooling fantasies and talents, the composer Michael Berkeley and the Australian novelist David Malouf have reduced Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece to a two-act chamber opera, stripping away most of the action and leaving only the tell-tale heart of the matter.

Jane and Rochester's love is the fire which kills the unwanted, but in truth almost harmless and pathetic, Creole wife who stands in their way. The admirably sparse libretto covers a handful of pages. The music, insistent in its dark turbulence, lasts under two hours. Yet in the process of reduction, aspects of the story, mere shadows in the original, have been exposed anew.

We all assume we know Jane Eyre. How refreshing to be reminded that Brontë's moral world is far more tangled and uncertain than most of us, reading it first as adolescents, ever imagined.

The opera received its world premiere on the opening night of the 56th Cheltenham International Festival of Music in a strong staging by Michael McCarthy and conducted by Michael Rafferty at the intimate Everyman Theatre.

Having promoted the performance of more than 100 new works in his six years as the festival's director, Berkeley has surely earned the right to launch the current season with a work of his own. (This was sponsored by private funding raised with Music Theatre Wales, which takes the work on tour in the autumn, and kept separate from the rest of the festival, before anyone quibbles.)

Doors, mirrors, windows, reflections and screens in Richard Alwin's set reveal and disclose, double and distort, the chilling secrets of Thornfield.

That this version of Jane Eyre exists at all is a feat. This was the piece, you may recall, which in its unfin ished manuscript state was stolen from outside Berkeley's house. The ensuing mental crisis, the thought that harsh fate might have intervened, the sense of a second chance while reworking, all may yet fuel a future opera.

None the less, the reconstructed work was finished on schedule. Written for 13 instruments, the score has numerous echoes of Britten, the composer's godfather, whom he has always openly cited as an inspiration. In scale and atmosphere, The Turn of the Screw is never far away. Nor, in the relationship between vocal line and ensemble and in erotic mood, is Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande.

Berkeley makes the music, full of alluring glissandi, work hard to carry the drama. Silences are used to dramatic effect. Rochester's music, like the wavering man himself, is caught between two women, at times echoing or repeating Jane's phrasing, at others, Mrs Rochester's. On occasion, he is pincered neatly and suggestively between the two as the music replicates the shape-changing mirrors of the set.

A saucy Parisian waltz and a snatch of Donizetti offset the terse chromaticism of Berkeley's score, in which he moves impressively beyond the brighter lyricism of his music to date.

In the title role, Natasha Marsh headed a well-chosen cast, with excellent playing by the Music Theatre Wales ensemble.
Fiona Maddocks, The Observer. Sunday July 9, 2000
Jane Eyre by Michael Berkeley (Composer)
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Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
July 4, 2000
Condensing Jane Eyre into an 80-minute opera seems like an impossible task. But in Michael Berkeley's chamber opera, with its libretto by David Malouf, the story is boiled down to an intense psycho drama of the events at Rochester's country house, Thornfield.

The opera investigates the relationship between Rochester and Jane, as well as the terrible secret of Rochester's wife, locked away in the attic. In Music Theatre Wales's production, Mrs Rochester is onstage almost throughout the opera; laughing, cackling and cursing from an upstairs window. Her character is the most significant of Malouf and Berkeley's changes from Brontë. By giving Mrs Rochester so important a voice, they turn her into a sympathetic figure. Jane and Rochester's love has to be even more powerful than it is in the novel if they are to overcome Mrs Rochester's influence.

Berkeley's music embodies an unrelenting sense of entrapment. Based around the most unstable musical interval, the tritone, every character's music is in the hands of an ominous chromatic grip. When Rochester and Jane agree to marry at the end of the first act, they cannot escape the dissonance that threatens to strip away their happiness. Mrs Rochester's music is even more obviously enslaved by this. And when Adèle dances and fondly remembers Paris, there is a suggestive undercurrent.

Over this continually shifting musical landscape, Berkeley weaves waltzes and references to Donizetti, and creates grim horse rides and depictions of Thornfield's fire. Berkeley uses a 13-piece ensemble with painterly assurance, emphasising the lower register with grotesque contrabassoon and double-bass rasps.

The whole cast give convincing singing and acting performances, but Andrew Slater's brooding Rochester is outstanding. In the title role, Natasha Marsh is by turns demure and passionate. Her alter ego, Emily Bauer-Jones's Mrs Rochester, successfully creates the impression of a woman who is deranged as well as profoundly wronged.

Berkeley's musical compression finds its complement in a set which is both reflective and transparent; a vision of the liberation outside Thornfield and the imprisonment inside. But concentration is one thing, dramatic power is another. At the end of the opera, it is difficult to empathise with the two lovers.

With the impressive, breathless momentum of the whole score comes a lack of time for the love between Jane and Rochester. Even with the tender scene for Jane and Rochester, the opera still seems under the influence of the emotional instability of the rest of the music; a curiously unaffecting conclusion. However, as a complete production, Berkeley and Malouf's collaboration has produced an engrossing reworking of the most familiar of novels.
Tom Service
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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