Therry Theatre
The Arts Theatre
Until 26 Aug 2017

Review by Anthony Vawser

Literary adaptations can be a risky enterprise – the essence of a great writer’s prose/poetry cannot always be successfully translated to a visual dramatic context, and first-person narration tends to present a particular challenge. However theatre/television/cinema has also produced a great number of highly regarded ‘cross-over’ successes out of beloved books.

Willis Hall’s version of Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” has been most successfully tackled by Therry. Director Megan Dansie and her superlative troupe of actors deliver an absorbing, intelligent experience that engages the emotions of its audience while giving them plenty to think about: The definitions of love and morality, the obligations of marriage and commitment to God, the capacity to rise above one’s upbringing - plus even the occasional humorous moment to smile over.

The most striking piece of theatrical adaptation to be found here lies in the multiple narrators, all representing Jane herself, sharing the thoughts of our heroine that fill in the gaps between scenes and allow the show to keep up a reasonable pace while covering all the necessary ground. It is a most unusual device, but one that is skilfully deployed by the ensemble under Dansie’s sharp direction.

Four years ago, young actress Zanny Edhouse greatly impressed this reviewer playing Ratty of “Wind in the Willows” fame, enough to feel confident that a future in adult roles, should she want one, was assured. Playing the title role of Jane, that future has arrived, most impressively. She presents us with a protagonist who is neither a martyr nor a saint, but a complex, thorny, fully human individual.

Steve Marvanek gives a commendable characterisation of Edward Rochester, a man fundamentally flawed yet possessing the capacity for both love and growth. Jane and Edward’s conversations together generate a genuine intellectual interest as well as a quiet emotional tension.

All other performers appear in multiple roles, and they work quite superbly well as an ensemble; Dansie has cast actors with both comic and dramatic talent and they bring a richness of character that serves the piece very satisfyingly. The set design (by Malcolm Horton and the director) is a clever multi-purpose staircase-structure that establishes all the physical dimensions necessary to tell this story.

Richard Parkhill’s lighting is some of his finest work, adept at both generating the ideal mood for the story and at defining the performance area into different locations as required. Sandra Davis (and her team of assistants) has costumed the cast in convincing designs and appropriate colours.

This “Jane Eyre” has been well-conceived and engagingly executed in virtually all aspects; it should serve as both an ideal introduction to the text, as well as a most satisfactory interpretation for those familiar with the tale.