Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday, November 10, 2017 11:18 am by Cristina in , , , ,    No comments
The Yorker reviews the National Theatre production of Sally Cookson's Jane Eyre.
The start of the play is effective in the sense it resonates the struggle between resilience and cruelty. The audience are shown that from the blanket-bundled infant, to the ragged, wiry-haired and grey socked child, Jane’s start in life is one of bitterness and loss. Clifford is shown whimpering and crying, her physical belittlement below Mrs Reed as well as her isolation on stage, projects the idea that Jane’s painful childhood can only give her the capacity to grow.
The minimalist staging and use of props was particularly effective in portraying Jane’s power. The stripped back platformed, wooden frame helped to show Jane’s raw struggles: by avoiding an opulent and decorative set, the audience is able to focus more, and establish a bond with Jane- whose character is presented in its purest form. Minimalist theatre is typical of National Theatre productions, whereby a simple set and the actors alone are utilised fully to tell the story. This was a particularly effective way of characterising Jane’s power at various points in the piece.
For example, on the eve of her wedding, Jane stands alone on the highest platform of staging wearing her long silk veil. A fan is held beneath the veil, making it drift and ripple in a manner so ethereal. This supernatural presentation of Jane with her moving veil, empowers her to an otherworldly level, on being the most content with her life she has ever felt.
Likewise, the plain staging and props helped to make the lighting a vivid feature of the performance. Lighting was often used to create fear, and therefore forcing the audience to empathise with Jane’s visual terror. The ‘red room,’ of the late Mr Reed, a place where the punished Jane was expelled to during her childhood, was most dramatic. The blood-red, scarlet lightning projected onto the stage filled both Jane and the audience with terror, as her uncle’s ghost drifted across the stage.  Terror is created during the fire scenes by Bertha Mason. I was impressed that on both occasions, real fire had been used. The fire that furnished the most dramatic part of the novel flamed with authentic wildness- the smokey aura immersed the audience in this terrifying incident.
Whilst the lightning and stage frame were effective directorial decisions, the most effective motif that Cookson utilised throughout, that I felt really empowered Jane’s struggle as a growing woman in this Bildungsroman novel, was the use of clothing transitions. To mark each new milestone of her story, a new outfit descended from the ceiling on a coat hanger, Jane changed into her new garment and sent her old clothes upwards on the same hanger. This symbolic transition appears at many points in the play: the puritan-style school uniform, and the loss of her white girlhood frock to the structured, austere, black gown of womanhood. Her governess gown seemingly suggests the hardships she is to endure as a woman,  whilst the chanhe to the wedding dress on the eve of her marriage to Rochester symbolises Jane’s optimism.  The very fact her new ‘identity’ descends from above perhaps comments on how we are forced to change by society and nature as we grow.
The most chilling and heart wrenching moment of the play, that stripped the narrative to its most human, was the moment Jane’s friend from the school, Helen Burns, passes away. On the uppermost platform, Jane cradles her perishing friend, as they speak of the cruelty their lives had fallen victim to. To depict Helen’s passing, a beam of white light, as if cast from heaven, illuminates her, as she departs, climbing to a separate realm. Very much alone in the school’s infirmary,  the sobbing Jane, we see, is empowered and emotionally strengthened by the love and loss of the person most dear to her. [...]
Minimalist poignancy and profused emotion helped to enhance one of the greatest classic novels into a stage play. The National Theatre’s use of symbolism in performance continued Jane Eyre’s legacy as an enduring figure of feminine resilience. (Jessica Jenkinson)
The Reviews Hub gives 3 stars out of 5 to Jane Thornton's Wuthering Heights.
Jane Thornton’s approach for the John Godber Company in Wakefield and Beverley is bolder – and by and large, it works. The major excision is of the character of Mr. Lockwood and, thus, of the to-and-fro time-scale caused by Ellen Dean’s narrative. Otherwise, it runs the full gamut of Emily Brontë’s novel, from Mr. Earnshaw bringing Heathcliff from Liverpool to live at Wuthering Heights to the famous last words of the novel, also of the play, “I wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumber for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”
This is possible only by using the actors as narrators and sections of the story are told either in Brontë’s words or in Thornton’s condensed summary. The five members of the cast, interestingly, are listed without named parts, as though Thornton wishes them to be seen as an ensemble. It proves to be a talented and disciplined ensemble, all recent graduates of Northern drama schools, convincing in movement as well as the spoken word, on stage throughout to supply additional voices and foley effects or move furniture.
This makes for a brisk atmospheric treatment but is not an entirely unmixed blessing. At times the acted scenes seem little more than snapshots, though Thornton merges narration and action-with-characters smoothly and cleverly. Not until we get to the return of Heathcliff do we have seriously developed scenes – and very passionate they are, too.  Also some of the foley effects – the whistling wind, for instance, or the long-distance slap – overstay their welcome.
The excellent cast of five registers strongly as characters as well as ensemble/narrators. Lamin Touray is at first a rather stolid Heathcliff, but much more intense and powerful on his return, physically convincing and with a manic glint in his eye in the disturbing final scenes. Lauren Sturgess skilfully distinguishes between the two Catherines, wilful both, but Earnshaw the wilder and Linton the more aware of her social status.
Duncan Rhodes is not distracted by his brief turn as Joseph, he of the gnarled Yorkshire speech, from his nice line in effete Lintons. Sorcha McCaffrey offers the female equivalents but adds a prying plain woman’s Nellie Dean to her spoilt brides. Alex Bailey’s speciality is rough-and-ready Earnshaws, but he brings out the essential goodness of Hareton (the nicest character in the book?) and excels as a large dog.
The set is no more than a few clumps of branches hanging above the stage, and movable props – chairs, boxes – do all the work, notably a metal frame such as could be found in an old-fashioned changing room which fills a variety of roles, most often a window – very economical, as is the production. (Ron Simpson)
Wuthering Heights - adapted by Lucy Gough - is also going on stage in Stevenage 15th-18th November) and Welwyn Hatfield Times shares pictures of the rehearsals.

The Weekly Standard discusses biographies and quotes Hermione Lee:
‘Biography,’ as Hermione Lee says, ‘has so much to do with blame.’ Biographers deal in the back and forth of accusations. I could sniff the mud clinging to them, and if I somehow knew they might bore or disgust me, it may be that I feared they might excite me too. But most of all I felt, still feel, instinctively nervous about putting words into people’s mouths where they have spoken so forcefully for themselves, and perhaps especially where they haven’t. Both things are true of Charlotte Brontë.” (Micah Mattix)
On BookRiot, a columnist writes about her favourite novel, Jane Eyre. On Twitter, Calderdale Museums shows an impressive hat with Haworth's Main Street and even the Brontë Parsonage Museum!

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