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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Jane Eyre
Trafalgar Studios      Summer 2006

The company called Shared Experience has been touring director Polly Teale's adaptation from Charlotte Bronte on and off (between other shows) for almost ten years, and if you have somehow managed to miss it, take this return visit to London as the opportunity for an exciting theatrical experience.

Teale and her company have managed to get just about all of the novel you'd need a more encyclopaedic knowledge of the original than mine to spot anything they've left out - into three hours that feel like much less. And they've even brought out layers of meaning that enrich the work in ways only the most pedantic of purists could resist.

A reminder: poor orphan girl survives unhappy childhood to become governess to a Byronic gentleman's ward, but the growing attraction between employer and employee is threatened by a dark secret from his past.

Polly Teale's major addition is an actress playing Jane's interior self, the passionate part her demure and rational shell represses.

This raises some small continuity problems, since the symbolic figure blends into the character of the actual madwoman in the attic, thus giving away a bit too early what is meant to be a surprise, and also deliberately leaving ambiguous which of the two we are seeing at certain moments.

(My twelve-year-old companion, who had not read the book - but plans to rush out and get it now - had no difficulty grasping who the interior Jane was, but needed some help as the figure morphed back and forth.)

Fans of the novel will spot, though, that those difficulties are more than compensated for by the suggestion that Jane has her own interior madwoman she must acknowledge and integrate into her personality before she is ready for a happy ending.

With a cast of eight filling the stage with dozens of characters, Monica Dolan scores as a Jane considerably more feisty and humorous than you might expect, with James Clyde's Rochester a bit less Byronic-romantic and more visibly unhappy - with both characterisations working very satisfactorily.

Inevitably, a modern feminist sensibility has entered the adaptation, not least in the suggestion that 'madness' was a 19th-century label for female sexuality. But again, fans of the novel will spot that this is not imposed on the original, but insightfully drawn from it.

By not only translating Bronte's vision into modern terms but also transforming it by exciting staging, this Jane Eyre is one of the best evenings of theatre to be found in London.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Jane Eyre - Trafalgar Studios 2006

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