Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Jane still has a tale to tell

The trials of being a governess as Jane  is looked down upon by snobbish visitors to Thornfield Hall. Pictures: Max Bywater

Jane Eyre

Dudley Little Theatre

Netherton Arts Centre


WHEN you stage such a well-known and much loved story as Jane Eyre you have to get it right and by and large Dudley Little Theatre's excellent company managed just that.

It is a sweeping novel and demands a big cast and even doubling up in 14 of the 28 roles it still needed a company of 21 to pull it off – and pull it off they did which is a testament to the direction of producer/director Andrew Rock.

Staging was minimal with just a few chairs, a couple of chaise longues and a balcony on a black box stage to give us Jane's childhood with the Reeds at Gateshead Hall, her miserable schooling at Lowood, where she eventually becomes a teacher, the village and home of missionary bound St John Rivers and the focus of the novel, Thornfield Hall. A whole Victorian world created in little more than imagination, and it worked well, aided by costumes with a look of authenticity from wardrobe mistress Hannah Gulliford.

Jane Williams as the title character is superb, starting with her unhappy start in life as an orphan – and if one is honest, as a bit of a whining schoolgirl through to adulthood – if her late teens can be seen as that.

She never seemed to put a foot wrong whether showing compassion comforting the dying Helen (Claire Hetherington), her first friend at Lowood, or anger and passion when she discovers Edward Rochester was already married as she stood by his side at the altar waiting to say I do and looking forward to a honeymoon in Paris and Rome . . .

 Admittedly his wife Bertha (Georgia Instone), was as mad as a whole factory of hatters and was locked in an attic looked after by her minder Grace Poole (Chris Ridgeway) - but she is still Mrs Rochester..

Gareth May as Rochester looks the part and makes a decent fist of a role played in the past by the likes of Orson Welles, Stanley Baker, Timothy Dalton and George C Scott.

The whole play depends entirely on Jane and Rochester and Williams and May made the couple believable.

Gareth May as Edward Rochester finds he is falling for Jane

There was good support from the large cast such as John Lucock as the self-righteous clergyman Mr Brocklehurst, cruel head of Lowood, Frank Martino as Mason, Rochester's Brother-in-law who stops the marriage to Jane and Ben Savage as the rather wimpy would-be missionary St John Rivers.

Jenny Pearson manages to be both the cruel Mrs Reed in Jane's early childhood and the kindly Leah at Thornfield Hall.

The smaller parts were excellently rehearsed,  weaving intricate patterns  as they moved chairs and scenery around and acted almost as a Greek chorus, reciting Jane's words or filling in the gaps in narrative. It was a most effective piece of staging.

The biggest gap in narrative is the fire at Thornfield Hall. We had a hint of it when Bertha set Rochester's bed alight  - with a red gel and a little smoke providing the effects.

But to burn down a complete hall, including Bertha's leap to death with blazing hair and Rochester's dramatic attempted rooftop rescue driven back by the flames, might just have stretched the budget to the point where the treasurer joined Bertha in leaping from the battlements.

So the scene was missed out and we only hear of the tragedy and then see Jane rush back to her Rochester, who might have lost a hand and be blind but at least he is free to marry.

And that probably worked better than trying to renact a fire.  Audiences have a much better imagination than special effects on a limited budge can achieve.

There is room for improvement though. This version, adapted by Willis Hall from Charlotte Brontë's novel, is a tad too long at two and three quarter hours  - the chairs at Netherton Arts Centre are not that comfortable so, if the licence allows, some judicious pruning might be in order.

It also lacks a little pace, particularly in the second half. There will be a natural quickening which comes with confidence in performance but making things  a little slicker would not go amiss.

It is a difficult play to stage – to find 21 actors, nine men and 12 women is a triumph in itself – but Dudley have managed it in some considerable style in a production which has both charm and conviction and due respect for a 166 year old pillar of the literary establisment. To 09-03-13

Roger Clarke

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