United Players of Vancouver

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë adapted by Polly Teale

Dates and Venue 25 January – 17 February 2008 | Jericho Arts Centre

Director Tom Kerr Movement Consultants Adam Henderson, Mikal Grant Sets Tom Kerr Costumes Catherine E. Carr Lighting Bryce Munro Stage Manager Laura Dodwell-Groves

Reviewer Jane Penistan

This is an interesting adaptation of the well-known novel. Polly Teale has elected to invoke the shade of Bertha, Rochester’s insane wife, as Jane Eyre’s alter ego. While this is choreographed as a dual presentation in the opening scenes, the connection becomes distanced as the story unfolds and the connection less tenuous.

Tom Kerr has designed his spare set with little more than the small raised balcony room upstage right, roofing an alcove on the main level. A staircase connects the main playing area with the sometimes lighted upper level room.

The cast is seated with musicians left and right stage, joining the action when and whence needed. Entries and exits are also through black curtains flanking the backdrop. This backdrop is also a screen for projections of scenes of Yorkshire countryside, or views of various house interiors and exteriors, and the blazing destruction of Rochester’s manor.

Catherine E. Carr’s costumes are cleverly and well designed for the women, but some of the austere Victorian gentlemen’s suits are, inevitably, ill fitting. Most of the eleven members of the cast play multiple roles, including a horse and the dog Pilot. Where quick changes are demanded, costume adaptation is both simple and ingenious. All the clothes are pleasing, and the more extravagant of the women’s wardrobe colourful, well researched, and elegant.

The restriction of the Victorian era is physically demonstrated in the restrained movement of the actors throughout most of the play, with occasional contrasting outbursts of overflowing high spirits.

As Jane Eyre, Roselle Healy develops her character from the unwanted orphan girl, through her school years to her role as governess to the delightful Adele, and to maturity to suffer misfortune before her final happiness as the wife of Edward Rochester. She is no shrinking downtrodden girl, but one with spirit, intelligence, and courage, and a compassionate and sympathetic nature. This is awell thought out and sustained performance.

Julia Henderson’s Bertha is graceful and controlled. Her miming is well defined with no unnecessary movement. The choreography of this role is thoughtfully designed and beautifully performed with charm as well as menace and madness.

Missy Cross as Adele has all the excitement of a child and never ovedoes the joie de vivre and exuberance of youth; nor is there any simpering coyness here. She manages the easy grace of childish movement naturally, without any obvious adult-being-a-child mannerisms.

Tariq Leslie’s Rochester has all the moodiness, aristocracy, authority and loneliness that the novelist put into this unpredictable character – a believable realization of a fictional persona.

As Mrs Fairfax, Joan Bryans is the personification of the motherly, kindly but well organized housekeeper and faithful retainer to the landed gentry. Her warmth and loyalty to the family and to the household staff, and her sympathy and understanding would be too true to be real were she not troubled by her knowledge of the mysterious woman in the attic. She conveys all this in her speech and acting.

Others in the large cast play multiple roles of guardians, friends, clergymen neighbours and servants.

Tom Kerr has brought this excellent and interesting adaptation to life with remarkable perspicacity. Sparse use of mime and intricate choreography, coupled with clear and understanding characterization, has produced a dramatized Victorian novel to engage and engross a twenty-first-century audience.

United Players has been raising its standards steadily for the last few years, and this is an outstanding production in an outstanding season.

© 2008 Jane Penistan