Friday, June 09, 2017

Broadway Baby has one of the first negative reviews we have read of Sally Cookson's Jane Eyre:
Although the production is basically unsuccessful, it is worth saying that this is no fault of the excellent cast. Hannah Bristow is a shining light in this production. She’s an accomplished character actor, and her Helen Burns is as bluntly angelic as her Grace Poole is understatedly creepy. Paul Muddell is also a real hit. He spends most of the second act playing a dog, and is nonetheless everyone's favourite character. Nadia Clifford's Jane is steadfast and courageous, really justifying her presence in the centre of the action. Melanie Marshall's incredible singing is also worthy of note. She brings much-needed atmosphere to the piece. Also appreciated are the accurate regional accents—Helen is from Northumbria, Jane never loses her accent, and only Tim Delap's Mr Rochester uses the received pronunciation that most historical dramas are plagued with.
When the actors are left to deliver the scenes effectively, the show works brilliantly. Unfortunately, they are very rarely permitted to do so. The production seems determined to alienate the audience from the emotional experience of the story at every turn. Short scenes are interspersed with long and baffling periods of physical theatre in which we are obliged to watch the cast pretend to be passengers on a coach, or run energetically around the stage to convey a long and frantic journey. It’s all a bit Sixth Form Theatre Studies, and I was left sincerely unsure whether these long sections were designed to express the emotions of the story, or distance us from them.
Whatever the intention, the effect of all these long sequences is to make the play quite boring. The scene near the start, for example, in which both of Jane’s parents die, could be visceral and emotional, but instead they choose to render it using an abstract dramatic sequence that entirely detracts from the real heart of what is happening. Scenes that could have interesting character interaction are instead delivered with both actors facing the audience. All very artistic, but it robs the play of much needed drama. The distancing effect of all this is a real shame because the original novel is an expression of passion and love and energy, all of which the play seems determined not to let us feel.
Also worth bearing in mind is that this play is two hours and forty minutes long. To make a production so much longer than average is a real indulgence that must be diligently earned. In this most essential of tasks, the production fails. (Grace Knight)
The Outlier Scotland is a bit more positive:
The production brings the best of what theatre can offer. Director, Sally Cookson, and her creative team evoke the grim poverty of the time; the intrusive, all-encompassing fire and brimstone religious climate that once dominated everyday life is present throughout. The cast are at their most powerful during the set pieces, their physicality is strong and the choreography dynamic, reminding us sometimes of Complicite, sometimes Stomp. The music is loud and embraces world styles – here is English folk, Christian Latin, Spanish guitar, a hint of Weill. It’s rowdy, rigorous, vigorous. This is a stage where anything can happen: people become sheep, they pee on stage, they die then get up and walk off. The actors play and the audience laughs along at the lunacy of a man playing a dog… Yes! This is what theatre is about!
However, when the music stops and the dust settles, the text doesn’t always support the show’s high octane early promise. Jane’s slow enthrallment in the magnetic force of Rochester’s secretive personality is barely explored. The relationship between them arrives quickly and lacks emotional depth, though Nadia Clifford as Jane Eyre packs a devastating punch. When Jane meets St John Rivers and his do-good sister, Diana, the trials of adapting novels for stage really becomes clear. The section feels overly long and when we return to the ruins of Thornfield there is a distinct sense that all the drama has happened off-stage. The earlier sense of danger that is evoked so well through the use of candles and numerous flame-coloured lightbulbs goes for nothing. There are odd musical choices too. A rendition of Mad About The Boy and, later, Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, throw us straight out of the world of the play, despite their terrific arrangements. Special mention should be made of the singer, Melanie Marshall, whose performance is classy and assured, but whose position as Bertha Mason does not become clear until too late in the proceedings. Paul Mundell impresses also, as does Hannah Bristow, whose portrayal of five distinct characters confirms her as one to watch out for in the future. (JL Green)
Old Mission Gazette has a joint review of Sarah Shoemaker's Mr Rochester and Charlotte Brontë's original Jane Eyre.
Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker is nothing less than captivating. In Shoemaker’s first novel, she tells the bildungsroman story of Mr. Rochester, the complex, sometimes cruel albeit romantic figure from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. If Charlotte Brontë was alive, I cannot help but think that she would be pleased by how well Sarah Shoemaker was able to imagine and write Mr. Rochester’s story to compliment her own. [...]
As a lover of Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters and many other old English authors, I approached Mr. Rochester with reservations since the voices and storytelling of those old English authors are vastly different from the modern American ones. Of course, the storytelling of Mr. Rochester is more modern, but not enough that I was constantly reminded of it. Shoemaker did a terrific job of staying true to the manner of storytelling of Brontë, who is credited with being the founder of private consciousness. Further, it’s clear that Shoemaker is well versed in the style of writing, the culture and the social norms of the time period. Through the research and experience, she wove a realistic and entertaining narrative that allows one to visualize every person and place, and emotionally connect to the main character.
It’s satisfying to have my questions regarding the mysterious Mr. Rochester answered, and understand just why Jane Eyre was so important to him. I was pleased that Shoemaker kept up with Brontë’s representation of Jane being of stronger mind than Mr. Rochester, despite them both having difficult lives, and that they both found the love and companionship that seemed out of reach.
I think readers will fall in love with Mr. Rochester, just as I have. Where many authors have failed to produce a prequel to classic literature, Sarah Shoemaker has succeeded. [...]
Charlotte Brontë published her famous novel, Jane Eyre, in 1837. Jane Eyre became a groundbreaking novel due to Brontë exploring Jane’s private consciousness, her strength, and her independence as a woman who was not interested in chasing or demanding the affection of a husband, as well as her exploration of classism, morality, sexuality and feminism. [...]
Indeed, Brontë wrote a masterpiece in Jane Eyre. The complexity of her characters and the relationships between characters will forever captivate readers and inspire writers and readers alike for decades to come. (Emily Glover)
Speaking of Jane Eyre, The Poke shares a tweet showing a school library copy of the book with a 'very puerile annotation'. It's simply an underlined word, though.

And another humorous (?) take on Jane Eyre as SparkLife recommends '10 Failproof Ways to Enhance Your Reading of Classic Literature' such as
Jane Eyre: You know that one friend who has a dog that doesn’t like you very much? Ask to borrow the dog, and put it in a cage in your room that is easily escapable. Then, read with your back to the cage, and wait to see what happens. Feel free to fall asleep as well. (Cassidy Graham)
The Guardian has a recipe for the broth in Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair:
“You’re at Ferndean, Miss Next,” replied Mary soothingly, “one of Mr Rochester’s other properties. You will be weak; I’ll bring some broth.”I grabbed her arm.“And Mr Rochester?”She paused and smiled at me, patted my hand and said she would fetch the broth.The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde
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On a 10 hour bus journey to Edinburgh during my first summer in the UK, I discovered an alternative Swindon. I knew the city as a home to roundabouts, the outlet village, The Office... but this was a very different Swindon. One where Richard III had been performed nightly for decades, dodos were kept as pets, and Literary Detectives pursued criminal masterminds. A tourist trade existed that saw avid readers journey into their favourite books, hovering on the fringes of the action and longing for a glimpse of the protagonist.
This Swindon is the setting of the Thursday Next books, of which The Eyre Affair is the first. These books are so fun, clever and packed with literary winks. In them, Mr Rochester is both the flawed romantic hero we know from Jane Eyre, as well as a friend to detective Thursday Next, who travels between her world and his. The chapters Thursday spends at Thornfield Hall, hiding from Jane Eyre and meeting secretly with Rochester, are some of my favourite in the series.
Any other week, I might have made the roly-poly that features on the menu at Thursday Next’s hotel. But this week is different. I’ve been so anxious about the general election - so afraid of losing the NHS, basic human rights, funding for education – all I really want to do is hide under my duvet and succumb to the cold that’s been hovering over me for weeks. (Kate Young)
This reviewer from Financial Times is not a fan of Daphne Du Maurier' My Cousin Rachel:
Daphne du Maurier wrote Victorian novels after Queen Victoria was dead. They’re post-Victorian, pop-Victorian, pulp-Victorian. Her best books enthral — Rebecca — while her worst are like post-extinction Brontë novels. Brontë-sauri. My Cousin Rachel is one such. (Nigel Andrews)
The Telegraph reviews the film Mal de pierres:
There’s a disastrous flirtation with the (married) village schoolteacher after he lends her a copy of Wuthering Heights: big mistake. At night, she runs her tongue over the inscription of his name inside the cover, one of a handful of odd erotic details here that register nicely. And Cotillard, who’s now 40, gets the coltish, questioning physicality of a younger woman exactly right, and ages seamlessly over the course of the two-decade story. (Robbie Collin)
And so does El Mundo (Spain):
La protagonista lee Cumbres borrascosas y, aunque la acción se sitúe en 1950, la película quiere ser, en la línea de Brontë, un melodrama decimonónico. (Francisco Marinero) (Translation)
San Francisco Bay Times points to another film with a Wuthering Heights reference: Monja Art's Siebzehn.
Writer-director Monja Art’s debut takes a relaxed view of these goings on, her tranquil camera and beautifully composed images showing the scope of the rural environment and capturing quiet moments as well as drama: a solitary swim, domestic chores, and a late-night discussion of Wuthering Heights and marriage.
Derby Telegraph finds a Brontëite in writer Louise Doughty:
Her own favourite author list includes Margaret Attwood, Hilary Mantel, Kate Atkinson and the Brontë sisters.
"Wuthering Heights has to be one of my favourite classic novels – all that running across the moors and wailing," she smiles. (Lynne Brighouse)
Last night, BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking included a bit on Branwell Brontë:
New Generation Thinker Emma Butcher from the University of Hull marks 200 years since Branwell Brontë was born. [...]
You can find more information about events including talks and guided walks for the Branwell Brontë anniversary at the Bronte Parsonage Museum and as part of the Bradford Lit Fest where a statue is being unveiled.
Listen to it here.

Yesterday on AnneBrontë.org Nick Holland speculated on who the Brontës would have voted for in the UK's General Election.

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