Jane Eyre, Watermill Theatre

Review by Jac Bradley

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The story of Jane Eyre is a gothic, romantic tale of conflicted emotions and repressed passions; Sadly this production from the Watermill lacks these and is treated as more of a story-telling exercise.

I was unaware before entering the theatre that this production will be heading out to schools after its limited run at the Watermill, which in hindsight does make sense of some of the choices made, it does not, however, forgive the production as a whole.

The main problem (again, taking the schools tour out of the equation for a moment,) is that for such a vast story that covers so many years of a person’s life, cramming it into a 70-minute show is, to say the least, ambitious. With such time restriction, it becomes more of a ‘Jane Eyre: Unplugged’ kind of scenario, which in theory could work. The ingredients were there – stripping back the set, use of movement and song – but to really make this kind of ‘acoustic’, deconstructed style pop, the work has to be super clean. Which I’m sorry to say, this was not.

Direction from Chloe France was slack, whilst there were some good ideas, the execution was lacking. It needed more definition in movement, even in the small movements and connections between actors. There was also far too much staring and acting into the middle-distance, meaning that crucial emotional connection was lost.

The adaptation by Danielle Pearson was interesting; Ideas such as using only three actors (2 female, 1 male) to take on all parts and also pushing Bertha forward to become a real player. She did manage to inject some humour into the potentially dour story, which worked very well. But again, such a mountainous task of reducing to 70 mins resulted in a little too much exposition which meant a struggle for the actors to really delve into the characters.

Rebecca Tebbett, unfortunately, fell foul of this most, playing the titular Jane Eyre, with a huge amount of narration to convey, there was little development of character. There were moments where it looked promising, but Jane is such a powder keg of emotion that she is constantly trying to keep a lid on, it would have been nice to really see that simmering passion under the surface.

The chemistry between Tebbett’s Jane and Alex Wilson’s Mr. Rochester was sorely missing. Wilson did well, but again, there was little underlying passion and brooding darkness to his Rochester.

Wreh-Asha Walton completed the trio playing all the other female roles, including Bertha, whom she gave some depth, but missing a little of the violence and danger of the original. Her singing voice, however, was beautifully hypnotic.

Sound design and lighting did not help this production. Both were rather clunky and for a theatre with such resources as the Watermill the production values felt more like the fringe, and I’m sure such a production would sit better in a black box theatre. Sound cues were stopped abruptly and felt jarring at times and the lighting, even though there was an attempt to do something creative, still felt rather generalised and did not help toward building atmosphere.

Overall, this production was ambitious but lacking clarity and with too many rough edges.

Jane Eyre is on tour until 24 November https://www.watermill.org.uk/on_tour_jane_eyre

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