I love theatre, and I love going to the movie theatre. I had not really anticipated how much I would miss the opportunity to head to the theatre for the EVENTS cinema (Theatre, Arts and Opera). What a gift to have Opera, Broadway and the Westend sending us their offerings through the Internet!
What I have been enjoying this week is the NT Live version of Jane Eyre, directed by Sally Cookson. I don't know how long the link will stay live, but for what it is worth, here is the link that is currently up and running. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mO0CXV0zEAQ
I did see this one when it screened in the cinema (Steve and Duncan came with me to that one). The production took my breath away, and I was so excited to see it again. Again, wow. I have watched it twice this week, and think I am going to watch it again tonight. I have also been calling siblings and friends to tell them to watch it. I think I am feeling the need for a community of people who can TALK with me about it. I know that at least I can rely on Arta to be talking about it too. Here is her post on the show. http://larchhaven.blogspot.com/2020/04/jane-erye-national-theatre-reprise.html
As I said to Arta, I just can't seem to stop thinking about this one. I have been thinking about pieces that made the piece so powerful to me. So... with no pressure at full organization, here are some of those things i have been thinking about.
One is Music!
This production has an incredibly rich sensorium! :-). There are musicians right in the middle of the stage through the entire production. If felt like they were rarely 'silent'. In some ways it was like being in a movie, so there was a soundscape accompanying the dialogue. This meant that the emotional life of the play was carried not only by words but also by sound.
|Singer Melanie Marshall as Bertha|
At the centre of the musical soundscape is this amazing singer (Melanie Marshall), who appears in a (period appropriate) rich red dress. She has this haunting voice. Without doing spoiler alert warnings, it becomes clear over time that she is 'Bertha Rochester' (aka 'The Madwoman in the Attic'). It is almost like, by doing this, Cookson pulls in the novel The Wide Sargasso Sea (which is an imagined retelling of Jane Eyre, but through the eyes of Rochester's first wife). With Bertha singing on the stage throughout, we have her character given voice (or at least, the kind of voice that comes through the choice of songs sung throughout).
Two particular moments that stood out for me was her singing of "Mad About the Boy", and "Crazy ". If you don't know these songs, "Mad About the Boy" is a Noel Coward song from 1932, made popular again in the 60s. Here are two versions:
"Mad About the Boy" is sung in the play at the moment when Jane is (at least according to the musical background we are hearing) beginning to have feelings for Rochester. But there is also this lovely linking to Bertha's story as well, which again draws the two women's stories into some kind of parallel or intersection. There is of course also the "madness" in the lyrics themselves. I felt myself reflecting on this particular kind of language of love so tied to madness, and sadness, and love that is unrequited, or imbalanced in some way. But I love how this linkage is made through music and song, through the world of aural experience.
|Jane and Bertha on parallel tracks and 'stools/pedestals'|
On second viewing (and third viewing) I found myself watching and listening for other moments where Jane's story and Bertha's stories might show parallels. There is a scene where Jane (as a young girl) is being punished by being made to stand on a stool, excluded by others. While she stands there, we again have Bertha singing, but singing from above, in a way that shows us each of the two women standing alone on stools, made visible and separate.
|Bertha and Jane shared pain|
And then there was Bertha's singing of the song "Crazy". This happens right after the previous marriage is revealed, where Jane leaves, and Bertha burns down Rochester's house and kills herself. Celo Green's "Crazy". Here is the original. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2E8S7OSc_nU [Celo himself has a version where he slows it down too... check it out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8Fc5Xk3Pw4].
This song is on my "Kareoke" list (favourite songs to sing along to). In the play, the forward driving pop-version of this is drained out, amplifying the power of the lyrics, making the song fit in ways that i just didn't imagine. In the context of the play, Jane and Bertha are on the stage together while this song is being sung, separate and apart in ways that draw their two life-tracks in alignment with each other. It ends up being such a haunting and beautiful meditation on emotion and madness. Beautiful! The song becomes a crucial part of the storytelling.
Layers and Transformations
I found myself thinking about layers and resonances and transformations over time, since all of the characters (other than Jane?) play mulitple characters throughout. The result is that each new character seems to carry echos of other characters they have played. For example, the actor who plays Rochester also plays Jane's abusive cousin John. He also plays one of the young girls at the Lowood Institution (for poor and abandoned girls!). But since our first experience is with him as violent and abusive towards Jane, it is hard not to have an echo carried into our experience with him as Rochester. This creates space to also reflect (in the interstices of thought?) about the relationships between 'good' and 'bad' behaviour, and about the parts of ourselves carried from the past into the future, and the possibilities of change and acting otherwise (indeed, this is something Rochester says explicitly in the play, where he reflects on what it would be to become good, to be something other than the total of his wrong choices and decisions).
|Craig Edwards as Mr. Brocklehurst|
And then I really loved it that the abusive head of Lowood Institution (Craig Edwards) also plays "Pilot the dog". Wow to his ability to capture the spirit of dog in that performance. At one point he flipped himself out on the ground exactly as our dog Penny does, inviting one to scratch him on the belly! The echos there were also powerful between the overwhelming judgemental character of the headmaster, and the absolute space of non-judgementalness at the centre of Pilot (and every other dog I have had the pleasure to meet)
|Jane transitioning from governess to wife?|
The play also pulled all of Jane's past experiences into her mind in ways a bit like a greek chorus. When she was struggling with her own range of emotions while making decisions, she would be surrounded by other actors (male and female), voicing elements of her internal thoughts, but through the voices of her past relationships. Sometimes those inner characters didn't 'voice' thoughts, but performed them in solidarity or company. This had the effect of amplifying the swirl of complex emotions involved. I really noticed this in the scene where Jane is taking off her "governess dress", to dress in a "wedding dress" (just before we learn that Rochester is already married, and thus Jane cannot marry him). This was of course amplified by the music at the same time. It also had the feeling of a dance performance. Again, the power of the scene was carried not only by words, but by sound and sight.
There was so much in this play about dressing and undressing and re-dressing. Jane starts in a bare white shift (as a baby), and then is dressed in the clothes of childhood, and then there is the addition of a corset, and then the dress of a governess... and then finally the move towards a dress to be wed in. It is was visually arresting to have the carrying away of the dress on a hanger... there was so much in there are about spaces between inside and outside, the robes/roles that are placed on us, that we take off, or that are taken off, that we seek, that we are denied. It was powerful. And painful. And beautiful.
Throughout the play there were so many moments that felt like dance: running around, taking on and off the dress, dresses hanging from the roof, one to be replace by the other dress. The transformation from the baby to a little girl, the layering on of the clothes, the corset, the dress, the coach rides and more. Often, things move into slowmotion, or the motion is arrested in ways that grab your attention, and force (invite?) you to stop and think more deeply about what is before you... or maybe 'feel' more about what is before you? You get invited to see how a person picks up the rage or pain or sorrow they have and then either moves forward with it, or doesn't.
There is just so much more to say. But I think i will just save it, and go watch again.
I will say this... it is 'not' really a love story. It feels more like a story about colonialism, about empire, about trauma, about poverty, cruetlty, and disconnection, about the lost and abandoned, and about the attempts to find spaces of connection and maybe of justice. Such a complicated story.
So worth a watch.
Marianka Swain has a lovely review of it here: