Jane Eyre | Harvest RainFirst performed at the Young Vic Theatre in 1997 British writer Polly Teale’s adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s beloved novel Jane Eyre must have been a labour of love. Teale has made something of a career out of the Brontë sisters, having written two other plays based on their life and works.

Unfortunately love can be blind and I don’t think that Teale’s adaptation will please everyone - certainly not the purists. Teale’s revisionist version of the classic tale, performed by members of the Harvest Rain Theatre Company, has a distinctly Freudian flavour that, from the outset, unsettles expectations of what a stage production of Jane Eyre should involve.

For a start there’s the fact that Jane has her own “mad woman in the attic”, a Bertha Mason who represents the impassioned individual straining to burst free of her stuffy Victorian corset. Jane’s “mad woman” also stands in for Rochester’s poor wife and the two interchange throughout the production.

Then there’s the sexuality. To Teale, Bertha’s madness is a feminist issue, her uncensored condition manifested through sex and violence flying in the face of Victorian prudery.

These matters aside Teale has adroitly managed to shape Brontë’s complex and unsettling landscape of the interior into a coherent script. It’s bold in tone and quite unlike the Jane we know through countless BBC adaptations, but these very qualities may bring new fans into the Brontë fold.

Joanna Butler’s firm direction keeps the pace brisk. The convolutions of the plot are confidently handled and Butler evidently has a feel for Brontë’s quick, sometimes spiky use of language.

However, I would have liked to have seen Butler rein in a couple of the performances. As Rochester’s young ward Adele, Elizabeth Gibney was more like Shirley Temple on crack than a French coquette and I really didn’t see the necessity to have an actor play the part of Pilot the dog. The presence of an actor acting like a canine during key scenes between Jane and Mr. Rochester was totally distracting and detracted from the main action.

As Rochester’s mad wife Kathryn Mason brings an impressive physicality to a difficult role. Once again however I found myself wishing for restraint. Bertha is onstage for the entire production making it hard to find focus in scenes where her presence intrudes into the action between Jane and Rochester.

Tanya Doughterty is excellent as Jane. The tale has been adapted so many times it can’t be easy to find something unique to bring to the role, but Doughterty imbues her Jane with a refreshingly dry wit and earthy passion.

As Rochester, a romantic figure to rival Darcy and Heathcliff, Edward Foy is equally good. He is everything a Jane Eyre tragic could want - eloquent, commanding and passionate.

The production design by Josh McIntosh was also impressive. McIntosh has stripped away the layers of Victorian stuffiness to create a spare and haunting series of backdrops which hint at the gothic themes of the novel. I loved the way the “red room” also doubles as the attic at Thornfield Hall.

This production won’t appeal to everyone. For those who know how they like their Jane, the innovations of Teale’s script may be too much. But if you’re interested in seeing a well staged, well acted and fresh version of this timeless classic then you shouldn’t miss Harvest Rain’s Jane Eyre.

Harvest Rain presents
Jane Eyre
Adapted by Polly Teale from the novel by Charlotte Bronte   

Venue: Sydney Street Theatre, New Farm
Season: 9 - 31 May 2008
Times: Wed - Sat @ 7.30pm / Sat @ 2pm
Matinees: Sat 10, 17, 24 & 31 May @ 2pm
Tickets: Early week discount (Wednesday) all tickets $22; Adults $35, Concessions $30, Child (under 12) $22
Info: www.harvestrain.com.au

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