Theatre Trip: Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre is a dynamic production directed by Sally Cookson. It portrays a story of a woman fighting for her liberty. This is a musical drama set in the 19th century in northern England. This has been a highly successful production at the National Theatre in London and will soon be going on tour around the UK.
Music, pace and rhythm are very important elements in the production. Benji Bower, who was in charge of the music, incorporated piano passages, opera-style singing by Melanie Marshall and lots of folk tunes. All actors contributed with special rhythmic effects throughout the performance. For example, to show the characters’ long journeys by train, the entire cast started running on the spot. I thought it was a very unique way to show this event. Towards the end of a character’s journey the cast portrayed his/her exhaustion. Among the many musical and vocal techniques, an ensemble projected their voices to portray Jane’s thoughts. This allowed the audience to understand that the story is being told from Jane’s perspective and allowed us to feel closer to the character.
Jane Eyre’s story is very complex and what truly fascinated me was how clearly all of the events were recounted. Even though there were no drastic changes in the set design, the characters used their space on stage in a very compelling way. Particularly memorable was the moment where two people in a dialogue would stand on opposite sides of the stage. For example, when Jane spoke with Mr Rochester, her character would stand centre stage left and he would be standing centre state right. This was incorporated with the use of different levels, for example Mr Rochester would be standing at ground level while Jane would be higher.
The play begins with a baby crying. The line “it’s a girl” is very powerful and automatically sets the mood for the production. By having all characters emphasise this phrase with a loud projection, it brings awareness to the audience and reflects importance. During the production, links to Jane’s childhood as a mistreated orphan are often brought up. In the 19th century, men and women played very different roles. Men would go to work while all women – their wives, sisters and daughters – stayed at home. Their main job was to complete their domestic duties, which for some were done by servants. During the Victorian era, people thought of men and women as “two different spheres”; a complete opposite from one another who would only meet for breakfast, dinner and in order to create an heir for the family.
From her early childhood, Jane stood out from the rest. Her curiosity and interest to learn made her unique. However, she was raised by people who didn’t encourage her and did the exact opposite. I feel like the aggressive attitude which her aunt and other characters expressed towards her was a way to protect themselves. Their behaviour could be interpreted as them feeling threatened by Jane and wanting to block her desire of freedom for herself. As the story continued, the audience could clearly see how strong and determined Jane is.
Another interesting element of the performance was how the same actors changed around different roles. Sometimes, they wouldn’t even have to leave the stage to do so. At other times, actors would simply be on stage to imitate an element of the set, such as the fireplace in Jane Eyre’s room in Mr Rochester’s house. Another example is Paul Mundell who played Mr Rochester’s dog. I thought that his portrayal of a dog was believable and I could sense that he and the director put a lot of detail into that transformation. I have never seen such a unique transformation from actors into characters and due to the high quality production, this approach did not seem weird or confusing.
This is without a doubt a very emotional play. The director, Sally Cookson’s, interpretation of this story is very innovative and has brought new life to a well-known classic. I believe that her main focus was to portray Jane Eyre’s life story and ultimately her goal of becoming independent. This production introduced me to a new kind of theatre and has inspired me to think outside the box when performing and staging plays.