Jane Eyre - Milton Keynes Theatre
A large group of year 10 and A level English literature students spent the afternoon at Milton Keynes Theatre enjoying a new production of the timeless story Jane Eyre.
For those who have never had the pleasure to read or watch Jane Eyre, allow me to set the scene: Charlotte Brontë published Jane Eyre in 1847 under the male pseudonym Currer Bell. It relates the story of Jane Eyre, an orphan, and her journey through life – namely, her position as a governess and her forbidden love for her master, Mr Edward Rochester. Jane Eyre is widely regarded as a timeless novel, both for its relatively revolutionary views regarding social expectations and its infamous love story between Jane and Rochester.
However, as a publically cynical critic of Jane and Rochester’s “infamous love”, I’ve invoked several debates on Brontë’s presentations of love and what makes the story a classic. Picture this: an 18-year old girl falling in love with a 40-something year old man (in fact, the first man she’s ever truly spoken to). Of course, in our 21st century, the thought of such an age gap with a – shock horror – hand hold every now and then doesn’t exactly appeal to a modern reader. My main argument in these debates always comes back to the idea of love – Jane (and arguably Brontë herself) is in love with the idea of love, rather than being in ‘actual’ love.
But why is Brontë’s novel considered a literary timeless masterpiece? Although it may be difficult to identify with in our era, there is no denying Brontë’s excellent and compelling storyline, as well as her modern views, that were articulated in the 19th century.
One major drawback of ‘timeless classics’ are the several adaptations that follow them – as the years have gone by, there have been an almost infinite list of theatre, radio, television, film and even book adaptions of Jane Eyre. This could be seen as a convincing piece of evidence of its brilliance. Despite this, I found myself questioning how long this list could go on for once I received an email about the new theatre production of Jane Eyre!
Don’t get me wrong – I have the utmost respect for any adaptation of a classic. However, I also appreciate how difficult it is to breathe a breath of fresh air into a story that’s been done a thousand times before.
But it did.
Walking into Milton Keynes Theatre last Wednesday was certainly different from my preconceived expectations. I was expecting a traditional blank stage with a few minor props, but I was met with a rather peculiar set up of different ladders, ramps and levels of staging (captured sneakily in a picture below). Needless to say, this was a ‘breath of fresh air’ that astounded me.
The play cleverly encompasses only 15 cast members, who portray different characters as they both leave and appear on stage. This contemporary technique again highlights the ‘breath of fresh air’ this play breathes, as the audience is kept on their toes with new characters being introduced throughout the play. Interestingly, only 2 actors do not change roles – Jane, our protagonist, and Bertha, Mr Rochester’s mad wife, who is locked in the attic. For perhaps purposeful reasons or even Brontë’s own subconscious filtering, Bertha is not explored much as a character within the original novel. Although again not explored as Jane or Rochester is within the play, Bertha, who is not revealed to be her character until much later, provides an unsettling dream-like quality to the performance which only makes us question her character and her presence even further.
Finally, the acting itself was spectacular – my breath was taken away at certain parts of the production as the emotion portrayed really hit home. Even as a pronounced “cynical critic” of Jane and Rochester’s infamous love (a factor that has certainly induced the majority of Jane Eyre adaptations), I found myself believing in this love (note the lack of inverted commas!) – not even just believing in it, but supporting this real, true and deep love between Brontë’s treasured characters; all due to the sheer talent of these actors.
For certain, this production will not disappoint even the toughest of critics – in fact, the play is a statement, a promise. A promise that Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, Jane Eyre, will never not be timeless. It is indeed a breath of fresh air, and I’m honoured to have had the pleasure to experience it.
Check out www.janeeyreontour.co.uk !
Meg Clayton, year 12