Last Friday was the anniversary of Charlotte Bronte’s death and it seemed only fitting to spend Saturday afternoon sat in the Oxford Playhouse watching an adaption of her novel Jane Eyre. This particular performance, the Polly Teale adaption, was part of the young players’ festival and was performed by the amateur Oxford Playhouse 17/25 Young Company.
On the whole, I really enjoyed the show. It’s been a while since I’ve read Jane Eyre, so my knowledge of the story was a little rough and I think I probably would have benefitted from a refresher prior to the play. That being said, the play did do a good job of capturing the main elements of the story, particularly the madness of the wife and Jane’s independent nature, even if it was lacking in the details.
The play did start on a peculiar note with two characters on stage playing Jane Eyre – one, the physical Jane Eyre; the other, her conscience or mental state. I did find this a little confusing to start with, especially as they interacted with one another and it took a while before the relation was made obvious. It did make for an interesting twist to see the mental storm inside of Jane compared to her outward appearance. This, however, did not last long and the character of Jane’s mind gradually evolved into Rochester’s wife, highlighting interesting parallels between the two characters particularly where it wasn’t clear who the person was playing – Jane Eyre, or Rochester’s deranged wife. The member of the cast playing these characters was the only one who was on stage the whole time and both cast members did manage to have the presence and acting ability to remain in character throughout. I did, however, think the first actress to play the role pulled it off better, being more wild and uncontrollable whereas the second actress came across as more cold and calculating.
And there were two actresses for that role, as there were for all the others. The most bizarre part of this play, the biggest twist, was that the cast all changed roles in the interval. In the first half, one person was playing Mr Rochester and, in the second, he was playing a minor character. This was the same for all the cast. I don’t know why they did it, but it was really jarring and caused a lot of confused glances and puzzled whispers across the audience. Having got used to who played each character in the first half, it made the second feel more of a parody of the first. It didn’t help that, while the first Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre were very good, the second ones did not quite pull it off. I don’t think this switch was the best choice the director could have made and it would have been better to have the two line-ups on separate performances as it did make me enjoy the second half less than the first.
The peculiar start and the change-over at half-time were the main grievances I had with the play. The rest of it was enjoyable to watch and the cast did very well with limited props and a basic set. I enjoyed the decision to have the cast play the animals – the horse was quite entertaining to see, although I did feel a little sorry for the one cast member dressed up like a dog. It is a play I would see again and it’s a play which made me want to go back and reread the book. More so since the play left out the one, concluding sentence which should really be in any Jane Eyre adaption and which would have brought the play to a perfect close: “Reader, I married him”
Play Rating: 3.5/5