The Arts University’s production of Jane Eyre sees the retelling of the novel by Charlotte Brontë. It is always inspiring to see young talent on display and this production had that in spades.
Students from three different degree courses collaborated to bring this show to a small performance studio on the Campus. Ten student actors play all the parts, while the company consisted of nearly 80 students, staff and visiting professionals. The performance area consists of a thrust stage with the audience in raked seating on three sides and a mezzanine above the upstage area. This made for a very intimate experience for the capacity audience of 50.
A lot of attention to detail had gone into the costume design. Our close proximity to the action meant we were able to see that they were authentic in period, style and even the material used, e.g. linen for the men’s shirts.
The minimalist make-up worked well for the Gothic Victorian setting, although I felt that Janey Orchard as Jane Eyre would have looked more convincing had she worn a period wig to cover her short hair. This was a slightly distracting anachronism. For me, another missed opportunity came towards the end of the piece when Mr Rochester is injured in the fire which burns down Thornfield Hall. The book describes him losing a hand and his sight, so there was the possibility of having some fun with prosthetics or make-up at this point.
It seems churlish to criticise any part of this excellent production, as so much of it was to the very highest of professional standards, including the props. The numerous entrances and exits were very slick, and despite the lead characters having large parts there was never a moment’s hesitation with the lines. This all made us really identify with the characters, get emotionally involved with their experiences and really believe we were onlookers as their lives unfolded.
Some superb performances were evident, particularly from Janey Orchard as Jane Eyre and Alex Lushington as Mr Rochester. They had the difficult task, as young performers, of portraying experiences and emotions that they may have yet to encounter in real life, but they were both utterly convincing. Janey has a very expressive face and great eyes – managing to convey constrained emotion whilst appearing to do very little – most impressive. If I had one suggestion it would be to vary the pace of her delivery slightly more, as many of her lines were spoken quickly and required some concentration by the audience. Alex was compelling as Mr Rochester, managing to embody the complex, broody character who gradually softens as he falls in love with Jane, but is conflicted due to his marriage to Bertha.
Strong support was provided by Daniel Cox who played three parts very persuasively. Eve Myer was very graceful as Bertha, although perhaps some further orchestration of her movements on the mezzanine might have made her performance less intrusive at times. Chloe Thorne as the child Adele made it easy to see why Mr Rochester found her irritating at times! The character of the evil Mrs Reed could have been a stereotyped performance but was well handled by Karoline Palacios Joergensen. Ivana Bocheva, Rose Fox, James Reynolds and Tash Miles made up the rest of the excellent ensemble cast.
Mention must also be made of the superb atmospheric sound and lighting which enhanced the mood of the piece whether it was romance, horror or mystery.
The show is sold out, but I for one will be watching out for the next AUB production and looking forward to another fantastic night out.