JANE EYRE – Richmond Theatre, London.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is a staple of classic British literature. Adapting such a well-loved novel must be a daunting prospect, but it is one that the Northern Ballet and choreographer and director Cathy Marston has embraced. Such an ambitious project is not without its difficulties, but despite the story of Jane Eyre fits remarkably well into the medium of ballet.
We first meet Jane as a child, orphaned and left in the guardianship of her ruthless aunt, and follow her story through school at Lowood Institution in the company of Antoinette Brooks-Daw as Young Jane. One of the highlights of the piece is a beautiful and heartbreaking duet with Jane’s friend Helen Burns (Kiara Flavin). Our heroine has never known much love in her life until she finds Helen, but the first person she has truly cared for is cruelly taken from her.
When Jane leaves the school she accepts a job as governess at Thornfield Hall and it is from here onwards that Jane is played by Dreda Blow. The decision to cast two dancers in the role is a questionable one, but it becomes clearer towards the end of the second act why this choice was made, and there is no denying that both dancers are excellent. Blow captures Jane’s resilience and vulnerability magnificently, bringing a graceful dignity to the stage that holds the piece together.
Edward Rochester, played by Javier Torres, the master of the house, has Jane captivated from their first meeting (not, however, the same meeting as in the novel – one of many omissions that feels strange) and their passion steadily grows, even as Jane herself tries to fight it. He eventually wins her heart but there is a dark secret locked away at Thornfield.
The appearance of Bertha Mason (Victoria Sibson) lacks the dramatic tension you would expect, and in condensing such a complex narrative into a two hour ballet, she becomes more of an afterthought to Jane and Rochester’s romance. The beauty of a great piece of literature such as Jane Eyre is that everyone takes away something different from reading it, however some changes to the narrative, while understandable, are disappointing. A childhood trauma that defines Jane is missing all together.
The score by Philip Feeney works in harmony with the dancing and the story. The monochrome set by Patrick Kinmonth, consisting largely of painted cloth drapes, pulled across to reveal and conceal key scenes works well as a backdrop, reflecting Jane’s somewhat plain life. The mostly muted costumes, especially for the male chorus who act rather like spectres overseeing the events, make the occasional splashes colour stand out.
Different characters are given unique dance styles, effectively distinguishing them from each other. Rachael Gillespie as Jane’s young pupil Adele is a bundle of energy leaping across the stage, in contrast to Pippa Moore as Mrs Fairfax, the housekeeper, with smaller more staccato movements as she hurries from place to place trying to keep order.
I question how clearly someone unfamiliar with the novel would follow the narrative. But as a celebration Brontë’s novel for those who know the text, it captures the spirit of Jane Eyre . As a premier production of a new adaptation there is a lot to admire about what is achieved here and the ballet is enjoyable despite its flaws.
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By Catherine Duffy