Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte, adapted by Janys Chambers and Lorna French
Octagon Theatre Bolton
18 January 2018 to 10 February 2018

For me it’s yet another page-to-stage Jane Eyre (the National’s most recent version on tour was less than a year ago and I’ve seen plenty of others over the years) but for the Octagon it’s clearly a welcome box office hit – I saw it at a packed matinee with an audience of roughly half school parties and half wrinklies like myself.

I’ve seen better.

The new adaptation by Janys Chambers and Lorna French definitely has the advantage of getting on with it, in fact in places the years whizz by rather too rapidly.

It only really gets a little bogged down - where all stage adaptations tend to - in the later stages, between Jane bidding her tearful farewell to Mr Rochester and going off on her travels and the denoument, where we have to go through the introduction of a whole new raft of characters we don’t want to know because all we’re really waiting for is the final clinch. To be fair, there isn’t a way of avoiding that on stage and overall the adaptation tells the story clearly, so it should be a worthwhile exam aid.

The design is strange. Amanda Stoodley provides an elongated octagonal acting arena with a grey metal mesh floor surrounded by roof height metal bars at the octagon’s points. The floor allows for lights to shine up from under it and is used to make bangs and crashes of metal on metal for reasons that escaped me. The lighting rig in theatre’s roof also has a mesh floor which here serves as the attic for the mad woman, a part of the design I did find effective.

Performances are rather variable. Jessica Baglow’s Jane and Michael Peavoy’s Mr Rochester are strong and believable - she appropriately feisty, he masculine and noisy, a little too noisy at times.

John Branwell keeps popping up in a variety of guises throughout, so much so in fact that the frequency of his later appearances was causing some amusement in my row. I wasn’t really happy about anyone else.

Elizabeth Newman directs and it’s fair to say it isn’t her most inspired work. The first ten minutes or so I found very flaky. It improves after that but, partly due to some weak casting, it dips in other places too. Making Jane and others clamber up and down over benches in pretence of walking in the countryside is a particularly irritating theatrical device that points to poor directorial decisions. Not as irritating however as the aforementioned National’s set, which had the cast racing around platforms and climbing ladders. Ah, The Theatre…

Reviewer: Alan Hulme

Comments

Comment by Robert Beale

I think Alan's being a bit harsh here. As an adaptation of a classic novel for the stage, it's very well done and tons better than the National's attempt to make a sort of Beggars' Opera out of it. The weak point is the duplication of roles within a small cast, which may gladden a theatre finance director's heart but does ask for titters when the same faces pop up as different people. Elizabeth Newman obviously loves the book and the honesty and determination of its heroine. And the central pair carry the thing very effectively, despite the unavoidable issues of how to represent the open air, what to do with all the late-appearing characters, etc.