Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
170 years on from first publication, Janys Chambers and Lorna French’s new adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s, Jane Eyre proves the story of trailblazer Jane is as inspiring and as captivating as ever.
Telling the story of an orphan girl and baring striking similarities to Brontë’s own life, Jane Eyre is an arresting account of battling through monumental challenges at a time when women were largely seen but not heard. Northerner Jane (Jessica Baglow) is taken in by her Uncle after the tragic death of her parents, much to the disgust of his cruel wife, Jane’s Aunt, Mrs Reed (Claire Hackett). Mrs Reed promises to raise Jane as her own, yet sadly subjects her to a childhood of misery and abuse which both Jane’s aunt and cousins revel in. Aged just 10 she is sent off to Lowood, a boarding school for orphaned girls, where she continues to experience a cruel and enormously unforgiving life at the hands of school tyrant Brocklehurst who delights in mistreating and humiliating his subjects. Despite this intolerable life, Jane makes a great friend in Helen Burns, a fellow pupil, tragedy however lingers close by as Jane suffers more heart-breaking loss.
Jane eventually becomes a teacher at Lowood but after two years yearns for change and adventure; she advertises herself as a Governess and is summoned to Thornfield Hall where Jane is granted the position and takes on the responsibility of educating Edward Rochester’s (Michael Peavoy) French ward Adele. As we see the developing friendship between Jane and Rochester build strange and unexplained happenings within the hall begin to occur risking both the safety and the future of the entire household.
The small cast take on multiple roles with each and every actor delivering clear and intelligent characterisation; the additional young company shine, particularly Jasmine De Goede and Coco Jones as young Jane and Adele respectively. Staged in the round, director Elizabeth Newman ensures the focus of this piece lies entirely upon the talented cast on stage. Full use is made of designer Amanda Stoodley’s cage like frame and the full height of the Octagon theatre is used to great effect when paired with Chris Davey’s dynamic lighting which creates and changes atmospheres beautifully.
The production feels bold and inspired as the pace dances swiftly through Jane’s early childhood to adult life. Baglow makes for an enormously charismatic Jane, strong of spirit, intelligent and witty, her search for fulfilment strikingly pure, she remains fiercely true to herself as painful as this may be. Convincing and confident Baglow embodies Jane superbly.
Michael Peavoy plays the brooding Rochester to Baglow’s Jane, he is forceful and intense in his attempts to get to know Jane who greets her masters unique ways with intelligence and smart humour, proving Jane to be an equal to Rochester in mind if not in stature. Peavoy’s ability to switch from deeply intense to light and playful perfectly embodies the complexity of Rochester’s bruised soul. There is an endearing playfulness between the two as their complex relationship grows and develops you find yourself willing for these two damaged hearts to heal each other.
Leah Walker as the ‘mad woman in the attic’ is creatively delivered, making exceptional use of the Octagon’s intimate space and designer Amanda Stoodley’s innovative staging.
Writers French and Chambers focus more on the humour within the novel in this production than any I’ve seen previously making for an innovative and fresh feel, allowing audiences to see Brontë’s characters perhaps differently than in previous incarnations. The pace is quick and sometimes the emotional depth is brushed over in favour of humour, it is none the less an enormously engaging and entertaining production. The focus feels less on Jane’s need for liberty and adventure and more on her relationships and longing to feel loved. Her search to create her own unique family, something she never had is heart-warming as she bids to prove she is loveable and equal in heart and mind to Rochester when society would deem her beneath him. Jane is a woman of enormous character, who is tested to the point of almost betraying herself entirely but her belief in love and the fierceness of her own integrity saves her. Bolton Octagon once again succeeds in creating engaging, relevant and inspiring theatre.
Jane Eyre on at the Octagon until Saturday 10th February tickets available here.